Program officer Carole Boucher talks to artists in Yellowknife last year about Canada Council grants, while information officer Francesca Ranalli-Atherton looks on. Changes to the council's Visual Arts program may make it more difficult for Northern artists to get those grants.
"I knew that we would have some problems for aboriginal artists working in traditional art forms," said Francois Lachapelle.
Natashoo Michael from Kimmirut learns coil pottery techniques during a workshop at the Matchbox Gallery in Rankin Inlet last year. - NNSL file photo
The Visual Arts program began the revision process two years ago. The existing programs had been in place for 45 years and had been meant to increase the number of visual artists. Since there are now 15,000 artists in Canada, Lachapelle said the program had served its purpose.
"The program was old, it was no longer pertinent," he said.
"With any change, the first reaction is to look at what we lose."
However, Northern artists may stand to lose more than most when the new grant descriptions replace the old ones in April.
The changes were formulated through a series of consultations held in 12 cities across southern Canada last fall.
Under the proposed changes, creation/production grants would be geared to career development.
To qualify for funding, art projects would need to be carried out in a "professional context." Exhibition venues for the art projects would have to have "ongoing contemporary art programming," prepared by a "visual arts professional."
Since many artists in the NWT and Nunavut are far from the nearest commercial galleries, and aside from the Yukon Arts Centre, the territories have no dedicated public art galleries, this requirement would be difficult for Northern artists to meet.
But Lachapelle said the same concern is shared by other rural communities and that the Canada Council offered no solution.
"It's no more of a problem for someone working in the NWT or the Yukon than for someone working in remote regions of BC or Quebec," said Lachapelle.
"The number of venues per artist is low everywhere. That's a problem the Canada Council cannot resolve."
Last year the council created a new grant program for traditional aboriginal visual art. Lachapelle said the main reason the program was created was because he foresaw problems for aboriginal artists trying to access the revised visual arts grants.
"It was important to have that program in place before the revisions," he said.
Lachapelle visited communities in the Yukon and Nunavut two years ago to get a sense of the challenges facing artists in the North.
"I must admit I was in a state of shock after that," he said. On the bright side, there may also be some benefit in the changes for artists in the North.
One of the three new grants will assist with marketing costs, which would include airfare and accommodation for trips south to meet with gallery owners and art dealers face to face.
Over the past six years the Canada Council has approved only two creation/production grants to visual artists in the NWT and Nunavut. The council approves an average of 220 visual arts creation grants a year.