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Home Story The 8 greatest things about the Great Northern Arts Festival

The 8 greatest things about the Great Northern Arts Festival

For years, Indigenous artists forwarded their work south, until Sue Ross and Charlene Alexander changed the direction. Now, the festival stands as a gathering space for over a hundred circumpolar artists to showcase their talent to those who make the journey to the NWT from all around the world.

Since 1989, Inuvik has been the proud host of this authentic celebration of the arts held on the traditional land of the Gwich’in, Inuvialuit and Métis people in the Northwest Territories. The Great Northern Arts Festival takes place each July and features five days of artistry in a variety of forms. You will find visual art, music, dancing, circumpolar fashion, original play-readings, circus performances and artist workshops, just to name a few. 

Read on to get a glimpse of what awaits you!

Visual Artists

The Great Northern Arts Festival truly highlights the rich tapestry and diversity of Indigenous cultures, spanning from the eastern shores of Greenland to the western coast of Alaska, the lowlands of Great Slave Lake, and up to the High Arctic

Art enthusiasts will be captivated by the variety of work on display, which includes carvings crafted from soapstone, delicate silver jewelry, accessories decorated with porcupine quills, intricate beadwork, and wearable art fashioned from sealskin, moose hides, and beaver fur.  Hosting a youth art gallery, and an exciting lineup of Northern films, the highly anticipated visual arts programming is guaranteed to be inspiring, entertaining and diverse.

Drumming

Stay close to the mainstage and let the captivating pulse of the drum infuse the festival with energy. Here, you will experience how just the sound of a drum can move the soul and set the tone for the entire festival! From rhythmic Dene drumming and Inuvialuit drum-dances, to Inuit drumming accompanied by a solo singer, each beat reflects the histories and traditions of these communities, and brings people together in celebrating the diverse cultures and customs that make the NWT such a unique destination.

Performers

Whatever your taste in music, the Great Northern Arts Festival hits all the right notes. The mainstage boasts world class performances from traditional Inuit throat singers, Dene drummers, timeless country melodies from legends like Willy Thrasher, foot-stomping fiddlers, and contemporary sounds from rising stars, like Nunavut’s own, Tanya Tagaq.

Artist Workshops

The artist workshops, definitely a highlight of the festival, offer a chance to get involved and learn firsthand about Northern crafting, art techniques, and performance skills from the artists in residence!

Cultural Exchange

No matter your background, the Great Northern Arts Festival is a gathering place for all arts and culture enthusiasts, and stands as a crossroads between time honoured tradition and the future. This is where genuine belly-laughs mingle with heart-stopping beauty and sentiment.

Come visit, and while you’re here, open your heart to curiosity. The festival promises to leave a lasting impression in ways you would never imagine!

Free Admission

The Great Northern Arts Festival offers free admission, with the option to become a member, participate in paid workshops, events, and galleries throughout the week. This unique Festival is made possible by the efforts of community-minded people, including a small yet mighty staff, and plenty of volunteers! For artists, sponsorship is available through the artist residency program to assist with travel, accommodations and meals.

Shop Local

At  the Great Northern Arts Festival, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to fully enjoy art;   here, you not only can appreciate art and craft, but you can also take it home, and choose to wear it, display it, gift it or add it to your collection.  The festival is  a one-stop-shop for acquiring one-of-a-kind pieces of Northern art that you can admire long past the festival ends.

The trip there ... and back

Once  you’ve experienced the brilliant artistry of the festival, acquired a new skill, learnt more about and perhaps witnessed   traditional drum dances, and created lasting friendships, it’s time to pack up your belongings (and possibly your new piece of Northern art) and hit the highway. 

The Dempster Highway awaits and promises one of the most scenic drives in North America. Its dusty roads wind through scenic vistas.  Although you may feel isolated, there is a world of wildlife around you. Take your time, drive slowly, and enjoy the ride! 

If you can’t make it to the festival, you may consider donating to support Northern artists and ensure the Great Northern Arts Festival continues to be such a successful and highly anticipated event! . 

The Northwest Territories features Art and Culture that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Rich history and tradition are intrinsic to the NWT.  Don’t miss out on the cultural experience of a lifetime. 

The Dempster Highway is the only year-round public highway that crosses the Arctic Circle and brings you to the end of the continent. Embark on the journey of a lifetime and reach the top of the world right here in the NWT!

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