Yukon Arts Centre: Partner Spotlight

The year-round hub for Yukon arts and culture packs Whitehorse full of art events.

Dän däw Kwenjè Indigenous Sovereignty Nän / Nün Nänkai akändür dän äłek’e ädesedèyè
Artist installing a wooden sculpture in the shape of a man with it's hands stretched out above his head.

Comprising a diverse array of visual and performing arts programming, the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) is a cultural hub that works to facilitate arts and culture in Yukon through dialogue, development and presentation of artists of all ages at their Whitehorse facilities. The main Centre comprises a 420-seat theatre, a smaller, secondary theatre called the Studio Theatre, and the Public, Community and ATCO Youth galleries alongside administrative offices, while the Centre’s secondary building, the Old Fire Hall (which formerly housed emergency services), is a multi-use space that houses special artist collaboration and performances, and is also available as a venue for rent to the broader Yukon community.

“We are meant to serve Yukoners in a broad range and present Yukon Art,” says Mary Bradshaw, YAC’s Director of Visual Arts, “but we go beyond that. We really feel like our focus is the North.”

Artist installing a wooden sculpture in the shape of a man with it's hands stretched out above his head.
Artist Susan Paleczny installs one of her sculpture for an outdoor exhibition in June 2020. COURTESY YUKON ARTS CENTRE / PHOTO BY MIKE THOMAS.
Three dancers with their right leg and arm extended, on stage, performing at a dance showcase.
Members of Heart of Riverdale Community Centre perform at the 2021 dance showcase Go Nuts! COURTESY YUKON ARTS CENTRE / PHOTO BY MIKE THOMAS.

Since neither Nunavut nor the Northwest Territories have a public art gallery, YAC tries to include artists from both regions in their programming, as well as artists from other circumpolar countries. “It’s so often stories we can so directly relate to and a similar lived experience,” continues Bradshaw. “As much as we can, we try to showcase [artists and programming that extend] beyond just the territory.”

Open year round, YAC runs a slate of art exhibitions and events as well as theatrical and musical performances, alongside multiple artist residencies, programs for emerging creatives, their Art Library and a permanent collection of 100+ works by Indigenous and Northern artists they’ve been collecting since 1995.

“As much as we can, we try to showcase [artists and programming that extend] beyond just the territory.”
Mary Bradshaw, YAC Director
Image of sculpted fish hanging from string, in front of a projected image in an exhibition space.
Joyce Majisky, Song of the Whale (Exhibition shot) (2020). COURTESY YUKON ARTS CENTRE.

In addition to offering exhibition and performance spaces for artists, the YAC’s residency programs often feature masterclasses, talks and workshops with visiting artists. There is an emerging artist program that pairs young artists with mentorship, and an emerging curators stream that provides curators the opportunity to stage a YAC exhibition. YAC also runs the Yukon Prize for Visual Arts, a $20,000 award that recognizes excellence in Yukon visual artists. The Hanging Sky Tour program (presently on hold due to COVID) brings artists from across Yukon to perform in various communities.

Speaking to YAC’s inter-regional ambitions is N3, or Northern Network X3, a cross-territorial performing and visual arts network created by YAC in 2014 to support and promote presenters and producers in the arts and culture sectors in Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Three people carrying one section each of a large metal fish puppet on the side of the road.
Puppets from Nakai Theatre’s puppet-making workshop walk from the Old Fire Hall to Fireweed Market in August 2020. COURTESY YUKON ARTS CENTRE / PHOTO BY MIKE THOMAS.

Younger Yukoners visiting the centre have the opportunity to have their works professionally exhibited in one-month exhibitions at the ATCO Youth Gallery. YAC also runs school tours of the galleries, and a series of Kids Kreate workshops that offer free opportunities for children ages 4-11 to work with local artists and craftspeople on various creative projects.

COVID has brought some changes to the way YAC operates, such as running certain programs outdoors. Current public health regulations mean that audiences can’t yet be welcomed in. But YAC is hopeful that they will be safely able to accommodate larger groups in the future, particularly for the Arctic Arts Summit. “I think we all are so ready to welcome back the world, right?” says Bradshaw.

A man smiling and playing the guitar while on stage during a performance.
Dennis Shorty of Dena Zagi performs in October 2020. COURTESY YUKON ARTS CENTRE / PHOTO BY MIKE THOMAS

During the Summit, the Centre will host a significant number of exhibitions and events, including an exhibition curated by young curators through the GLAM Collective that will bring together artworks from many of Canada’s large public institutions with Indigenous art collections, including the Yukon and Northwest Territories Governments, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Global Affairs Canada Visual Art Collection and the Indigenous Art Centre run by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. “It’s a real celebration of Indigenous arts from across northern territories…these young curators are going to have their pick of everything,” says Bradshaw. Many of the institutions are lending their support by also covering shipping to facilitate getting the work up to Whitehorse. 

Beyond the Summit itself, YAC is hoping to foster relationships both with artists and institutions that can blossom into larger future plans, energizing artists to create new works about their experiences or unlocking exhibition and performance opportunities for artists that are new to YAC. “Hopefully we spark some collaborations,” says Bradshaw. “If they could spark here on site and then grow, that’s real magic.”