Since the start of the pandemic it’s been clear that Inuit artists are in for a long road to recovery. With some communities in the North beginning to relax physical distancing measures and removing the enhanced supports they put in place early on, artists are caught between a sluggish marketplace and the drying up of emergency supports many have been relying on.
Today, we hear from Holly Andersen, a photographer based in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut, NL, who is our Nunatsiavut Community Liaison, to get her take on what's happening for Nunatsiavut artists.
What have you been hearing from artists in your area about how they are faring?
Supply has historically been an issue; usually we don't get many cruise ships (and this year all are cancelled), but the past few years we actually had two come in and while that was great, we weren't ready for it. I think if the artists knew they were coming through earlier, they would have started sewing things or getting art printed in the winter or spring so they'd be ready for summer. Whatever they had made was just at the craft shop and that was it. I'd like to see more things at the craft shop so when [the cruise ships] do pass through again they'll have more of a selection on hand. Here it's mostly slippers and some mitts.
For me as a photographer, I don't really have anything printed on hand for sale. I find it's hard to judge what will sell—there might be certain pictures I like, but I don't know if people would buy them. Figuring out which photos I would actually get printed and ordered in and not knowing if they'll sell or not is the hardest part for me.
In terms of materials, the craft centre is open now, and has been for a few weeks. You can make orders and pick it up, but you can't actually go in the store. The centre takes a picture of everything that's in there and you can call in and make your order, email the money and drive by and pick it up. That helps a lot, because there are some people that are stuck in the house and wishing they had materials to make art.
A lot of artists are on Facebook and they post things there for sale, sending them also creates problems. One artist in Hopedale, NL, Natalie Lane, posted that she's only taking orders for Hopedale or Happy Valley - Goose Bay, NL, not anywhere else on the coast. If you want to send something to Nain, NL, it's got to go through Happy Valley - Goose Bay first, then up to Nain. I don't think she likes that uncertainty that somebody's package might get lost along the way.
Creating itself has problems; even though some people do have more time now, creatively they can't do it. I know of two female artists who are working from home with their three kids. I know they would like to make art, but they just don't have time with the children. You can't tell the kids to go out and play with friends, because they're not allowed.
What supports are available in your area?
I don't know that there’s much. Nunatsiavut’s Art Coordinator, Chantelle Andersen, put out a survey from our government, wanting to hear from artists about their challenges, things artists are facing, are you having a hard time selling your work or even producing your work. It'll be interesting to see the responses she gets.
So far, the Nunatsiavut Government has nothing specific for artists in terms of a relief program. They're just trying to make sure people have food and gas and other necessities. You can’t know everyone's financial situation, so I think everyone should have a little bit of help.
In an ideal situation, what immediate support would assist artists in your region?
I don't know if there's much that can be done, because we're not allowed to be around other people. There's nothing in place through our government for artists, it's just kind of "fend for yourself, hope you get through it". But some people do depend on what they make and what they can sell. I know Blanche Winters has been making a lot of jackets and she sells them on her Facebook page. She's been keeping busy! Multidisciplinary artist Jessica Winters is creating as well, as is glassmaker Raeann Brown.
Are there any initiatives or positive stories you think we should know about?
I thought people would have all this time on their hands. During mental health week our Department of Health & Social Development was asking people through Facebook how they're feeling, and some people did write that it was overwhelming to be working from home with their kids. They can't make art because their creative energy is just not there. Art is usually something that you can use to wind down. It's supposed to be something to help you relax, not get stressed out over.
I'm hoping people are going to keep making whenever this virus is over, so they can sell work through the craft shop and hopefully, when a cruise ship comes through again, have items ready, whenever that may be. I hope people keep making art.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.