Left, A woman with colourful hair and wearing a red dress with flowers is holding a microphone and has her back to the camera. She is looking to her left. Her right fist is raised above her head. There is a crowd watching her and trees in the background.  Right, A big satellite dish painted with northern ice fishing scenes is on the left. A crowd is gathered with their back to camera looking up to it. The sky is cloudy and there are trees in the background.

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September 20, 2022
Left, Timmie Marak performing at Nuihaȓuq, outside the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre during the 2022 Arctic Arts Summit. Photo: Mike Thomas for the Yukon Arts Centre.
Right, view of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility. Photo: Canada Council for the Arts.

How the North is Changing the Canada Council for the Arts

September 20, 2022

A blog post from the Director and CEO, Simon Brault

Time spent in the North has changed me—and more and more, it’s changing the way the Council works.

This idea came to me this past June as I was returning from my third visit to Canada’s northern territories as Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts.

In 2019, I travelled to several communities across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

This time, the Council’s senior leaders joined me on a visit to the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

  • We met with artists and culture workers where they make and share art—in studios, theatres, community centres, and craft stores.
  • We visited with many people at innovative local projects like the community greenhouse in Inuvik and the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, which showcases work by local Indigenous artists.
  • We participated in community gatherings, including in Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
  • We spoke with leaders and community members at the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, in Yellowknife.
  • We also held a first Board meeting in the Northwest Territories, and we cohosted the Arctic Arts Summit with the Government of Yukon.
A group of people sit in a space with high vaulted ceilings facing a stage. A woman speaks at the podium. The words 2022 Arctic Arts Summit are projected on a screen.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, delivers a keynote speech to open the 2022 Arctic Arts Summit. Photographer(s): Mike Thomas for the Yukon Arts Centre.

Everywhere we went, people challenged the way we think about our mandate and the ways we work. They shared their ideas and their practices about creating arts and building culture, invoking many connections between the land and inspiration. We also heard a lot about issues that affect everyone, like climate change.

And with our international guests at the Summit held in Whitehorse, we explored how people across the circumpolar North have a lot in common—and many areas to collaborate on.

Now back in Ottawa, we’re changing how the Council responds to the realities and opportunities of northern communities that we recognize are distinct.

A shot from above of a group of people sitting in a wide-open hall facing a man at a podium.
Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts Simon Brault speaks at an arts and culture community gathering in the Great Hall of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Photographer(s): Geoffrey Rodriguez for the Canada Council for the Arts.

What we’ve learned—and what we’re doing about it

One of the most important things we’ve learned: we need long-term partners on the ground to make real change.

We have a limited perspective on the cultural life in the North as an organization in the South. Partners in the territories have the long-term relationships and nuanced understanding about their communities that we lack. They know what needs to be done and how to make it happen.

That’s why we’re co-developing initiatives with northern partners. We recently announced two partnership projects:

We want to build more partnerships like these, so stay tuned.

A group of people wearing colorful clothing are singing and walking along a walkway, bordered by grass on either side. A brown building is in the background.
The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers lead a procession at Nuihaȓuq during the 2022 Arctic Arts Summit. Photographer(s): Mike Thomas for the Yukon Arts Centre.

How we’ll continue to learn and change

We need to keep learning and changing.

The Council welcomes the Government of Canada’s Inuit Nunangat Policy and is committed to implementing its requirements for our organization.  

We’re also learning from the Research on the Value of Public Funding for Indigenous Arts and Cultures. This research project is grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing. It highlights opportunities to improve the value of public funding for Indigenous arts and cultures, including in the North.

We’re about to develop a Northern Arts Roadmap and Action Plan. This work will focus on the issues northerners have told us about, and it will say how we’re going to respond.

We’ve learned a lot—but we need to keep learning from northerners.

A group of people sit in a bright studio looking towards a woman who is standing and speaking to them. Her back is to the window.
Representatives of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, the Dene Najho and the Makerspace spoke at a gathering in the arts room of the Makerspace in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Photographer(s): Geoffrey Rodriguez for the Canada Council for the Arts.

Share your thoughts with us

Meeting in person is invaluable—but when we’re apart, I still want to hear from you.

What else do we need to know about the North? About your community?

How else do we need to change? And what are we getting right?

You can write directly to me at forthenorth@canadacouncil.ca.