Every year, up to two million birds, from snow geese to black-bellied plover, touch down at the Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Nunavut to nest for the summer months. Travellers flocking to the southwestern tip of Baffin Island, however, can expect to see another remarkable phenomenon: a hamlet, Cape Dorset, sustained by its diverse community of artists.
Known locally as the "capital of Inuit art," over 20 per cent of Cape Dorset's labour force is employed in the visual arts. Kinngait Studios, part of West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, is a professionally run studio that supports and sells the work of local artists in the form of stone-cut, lithographic and etched prints through its marketing division, Dorset Fine Arts. Its annual, globally-acclaimed print collection, currently in its 57th year, brings the work of emerging and established Inuit artists to a wider audience . Studio manager Bill Ritchie selects the drawings that make up the collection and artists collaborate with artisans to translate the works into prints, available for purchase in galleries nationwide.
While visitors can't purchase prints hot-off-the-presses, they can arrange for a tour of the studios. More often than not, artists such as Shuvinai Ashoona can be found working in the "drawing room," surrounded by coloured pencils and other tools of the trade. Ritchie says witnessing the process and varied output of these artists can help debunk a central myth about Inuit art: that it's just "one thing." Despite all the hoopla over Canada turning 150 this year, Ritchie is already looking ahead to spring 2018 and the opening of the Kenojuak Cultural Centre, which will consolidate the activities of Kinngait Studios into a single modern production space, gallery and community hub.
For more information, visit www.dorsetfinearts.com.