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No room at the inn

Daron Letts
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - As the Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts approaches its seventh decade in the capital, the non-profit organization is facing the biggest struggle in its history.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Jane Romanowich makes a basket during the Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts basketry workshop in October. The Guild offers 30 to 40 classes annually. - Daron Letts/NNSL photo

"As of June we'll have no home," guild president Wendy Stephenson said. "It's a great concern."

A 12-year-old partnership between the guild and the Catholic School Board is scheduled to end in June 2006. By that time the guild will have to move its three kilns, 10 pottery wheels and all its glaze-making equipment out of the St. Patrick high school arts classroom.

The guild has used the room on evenings and weekends for about a decade, paying for some utilities and offering programming for students in exchange. The school now needs the space for its students.

"What it will mean is that we can get more students easily, fairly accommodated with sufficient space inside the arts classroom itself," said Mike Huvenaars, assistant superintendent of business with the Catholic School Board.

"We've had a really good relationship with the guild. We've had students together and we've shared space very well for many years. We hope to find a way to continue our relationship in the future."

The guild and the board discussed the school's need for increased art space over the past two years, so the decision came as no surprise. In recent months, the school board explored the possibility of offering room for the guild in the expanded Kimberlite Career and Technical Centre, but that solution didn't work out.

"There were a number of reasons that it turned out that we couldn't make it happen, but it's not that we didn't try," Huvenaars said.

The guild already formed a committee to search for a space to lease next summer. So far they haven't found anything affordable, Stephenson said. The appropriate venue requires proper ventilation and about 1,500 square feet of floor space. The other option is to find another organization willing to partner with the guild, Stephenson said.

Elected officials recognize the guild's situation as a community problem.

"Regrettably, everybody in Yellowknife is up against a space crunch," MLA Bill Braden said. "As a volunteer organization that's got 60 years of history, (guild members) make a great contribution to the community, so they deserve every support they can get."

Braden applauds the Catholic School Board for its years of support for the guild. He said he hopes another organization will partner with the guild before the summer.

City councillor Mark Heyck remembers visiting the guild's craft sales as a child every December with his mom. It's an organization that deserves to thrive for decades to come, he said.

Heyck looks at the guild's predicament as further evidence that council needs to work quickly to implement a long-term solution to the community's need for arts space.

"I think the direction council is going in now would be to look at a shared use facility where we could have a public library and an arts centre on that site," he said, referring to the proposal for the Gerry Murphy site contained in this week's budget.

"That's a few years off, granted, and it won't satisfy the guild's immediate needs, but certainly that's something that we'd be willing to look at down the road."

The guild maintains a membership of about 140 experienced and novice artists and offers 30 to 40 classes a year in basketry, pottery, silver work and weaving.

Ruth Stanton started the organization as a branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild in 1946.