In a ceremony today, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Canada's first and oldest civic art gallery, broke ground on its Inuit Art Centre. Slated for opening in 2020, in conjunction with Manitoba’s 150th birthday, the 40,000-sqft, four-storey Centre will bring to view the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art.
Today's events opened with the lighting of the quilliq by Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), NU-based Arts Advisor for the Government of Nunavut's Department of Economic Development and Transportation, Theresie Tungilik, and drum dancing by Piita Irniq, former Nunavut Commissioner. Both are members of the WAG Indigenous Advisory Circle. Throat singing was performed by artist Goota Ashoona and Nikki Komaksiutiksak and a blessing was given by Elders Clarence and Barabara Nepinak of Pine Cree First Nation.
Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, made note of the many Inuit in attendance, those "working towards the dream of the Inuit Art Centre but also the dream of self-determination, pushing us forward in all aspects of society, back into a place where we are in control of our destiny [. . . .] so that we can work with Canadians for a better Canada." Obed continued, noting the early state-sponsored structures of the Inuit art economy, but was quick to point out that, "of course, Inuit have always told our stories through the art that was produced for that market but also through the art that we produce as a society, that is not for sale." He closed by expressing his enthusiasm that Inuit would have a dedicated space to share the full breadth of their creative worlds with the broader public, noting the long and rich history of Inuit cultural expression through objects, garments and stories and one that continues to thrives today. "I hope this gallery proves to be a new entry point to better understanding and respecting Canadian Inuit art," said Obed. "And by extension, greater respect for our communities and our homeland, Inuit Nunangat.
Sharon Parenteau, General Manager of the The Louis Riel Institute, and Sheila North, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), also spoke on their hopes for the Centre and its ability to function as a robust site for cultural exchange, Indigenous resilience and education, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
Representatives from all levels of government also spoke on the importance of and the bright future ahead for this one-of-a-kind cultural landmark, including confirmation from Manitoba Premiere Brian Pallister that his government is prepared to commit an additional $5 million in funding, when the private sector contributes another $10 million. This would bring the province's total financial contribution from $10 to $15 million. Premiere Pallister also noted in his comments today that no funds for the Centre had been set aside when his government took office in 2016 and that while the Inuit Art Centre was always a funding priority, his government required time to assess their financial obligations. In his remarks, Pallister also thanked WAG Director and CEO Stephen Borys for his patience in confirming the funding.
Pallister was followed by Dan Vandal, Member of Parliament for Saint Boniface–Saint Vital speaking on behalf of Melanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Winnipeg mayor, Brian Bowman. "It’s been a long road and it’s incredible to finally break ground on the Inuit Art Centre," shared Bowman, who is a past President of the Board of Governors for the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The WAG has currently raise $51 million in funding for the $65 million Centre, including $20 million from the federal government and $5 million from the City of Winnipeg.
As shared by the IAQ, the inaugural year of programming for the Centre will be led by an all-Inuit, curatorial team comprised of Inuit Art Foundation Board Member Dr. Heather Igloliorte, Asinnajaq, Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter and Krista Ulujuk Zawadski. All four curators, as well as members of the WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle were on-hand for today's event.