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Exploring Yukon’s thriving art scene
While the Yukon may better be known as a place for outdoor adventure, those who want to enjoy a break from the heart-pounding activities might want to mix in a bit of aesthetics in with those athletics, as the territory boasts a thriving art scene. There are a wide range of options, from browsing local galleries and artist studios, to checking out public art, visiting museums and cultural centres that make it easy to put together an art-infused itinerary.
Art galleries and studios
Art galleries can be found spread throughout the province, from Whitehorse to the tiny town of Carcross. One of the best is the artist-run co-op gallery known as Yukon Artists at Work Gallery. Located in Whitehorse, it opened more than a decade ago to provide a venue for both emerging and established artists. It began with a dozen members in a trailer at the edge of town, but since then it’s come to include some 35 members and is currently located near Main Street in a quirky blue house on 4th Avenue. Today, it showcases the works of a wide range of artistic disciplines, including sculptors, potters, painters and fibre artists. As part of the co-operative, the artists take turns running the gallery, which means when you visit, you’ll get to chat with one of the local artists too.
The Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery in Whitehorse is the only Class-A facility in northern Canada and hosts 10 to 14 exhibitions each year, with a focus on innovative exhibitions featuring the wide range of contemporary art from a local, regional, national and international perspective. It displays the works of professional Yukon artists in the 4,200-square-foot space in addition to hosting exhibitions of national importance to the territory.
The North End Gallery is considered one of the premier destinations for Yukon art, situated on the waterfront in Whitehorse. It features fine gifts produced by artisans from around Canada along with First Nations arts and crafts and Yukon artwork that includes a variety of media. Look forward to viewing sculptures created from natural materials the Yukon is known for, like moose and caribou antlers, muskox and sheep horn as well as mammoth ivory.
Also in Whitehorse, the Arts Underground is a community facility managed by the Yukon Art Society. Here there are a number of galleries, art workshops and a gallery shop with locally made art, and more. The Hougen Heritage Gallery showcases rotating heritage collections of photographs. It includes the Hougen family collection, something that was inspired by the passion Rolf Hougen had for Yukon heritage. At Heidi Hehn’s Studio, you can view her realistic paintings of urban and wild landscapes, people and wildlife, while the Larry DuGuay Studio, a fully-equipped working pottery studio, offers tours and throwing demos.
Whitehorse also boasts a guide to all of the working Artist Studios, listing nearly 40 different studios run by artists who are open to visits by the public. You might be surprised at the range of diversity, with everything from painting, glassblowing, sculpture and photography to printmaking, weaving, quilting, woodworking, metalsmithing, ceramics and beyond. There’s even First Nations art which goes far beyond the traditional offerings.
In Dawson City, the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture is a centre for culture, hosting art festivals, exhibitions, courses and the Odd Gallery, with exhibitions focused on carrying on the rich Klondike tradition of cultural diversity and grand ideas. Dawson City even has its own art school, where visiting artists play an important role in connecting the Yukon School of Visual Arts students with a network of top art professionals from across the nation and beyond. Often these professional artists conduct workshops, lectures, presentations and other special programs while they’re here.
Over in the historic village of Carcross, once a major supply centre and a popular stop during the gold rush, you’ll find an artist-run gallery. Art House Carcross is a visual art showcase for promoting the territory’s art, showcasing exceptional local artists and their works through various exhibitions, like the giant snow sculptures made with paper and glue statuettes.
Whitehorse features 19 pieces of significant public art in and around its downtown and riverfront areas, which includes everything from a large bronze of the prospector and his dog to the playful, quintessential Raven House and the Whitehorse Horse, which sits at the top of 2 Mile Hill at the Public Safety Building. The Yukon Permanent Art Collection is home to some 400 works in practically every type of media imaginable, and a wide variety of pieces rotate around the Yukon’s government buildings.
Some of the other highlights around Whitehorse include Waves of History, a multi-piece stained glass work installed about the three entrances to the Information Centre, while the Box of Light contains all of the main characters in the Tlingit legend, which tells how Raven stole the sun, moon and stars for the Earth – it looks even more spectacular lit up at night, if you can find enough darkness when visiting in the summer, that is.
Be sure to check out the Friendship Totem Pole in downtown Yukon which represents unity among all Yukoners. The thunderbird and its outstretched wings symbolises good luck and happiness to all, while the wolf represents one of the major Indian clans of Yukon, and the Crow represents the second major Indian clan of Yukon. The Beaver, which depicts the fur industry, symbolises industry, perseverance, energy and intelligence; the Bear represents good hunting, holding everyone up due to his great strength.
First Nations crafts
The Yukon is home to many outstanding First Nations artists creating art based on traditional legends and images that have been passed down through generations. You can both browse and purchase some of the crafts that range from carvings and masks made with copper, bone, wood, antler and mastodon ivory to fur and beaded clothing, mukluks and moccasins, weaving, paintings and much more. Many sell their work at Cultural Centres, local galleries, annual festivals, or right from home.
The Indian craft shop on Main Street in Whitehorse carries many local First Nations artwork and crafts, like hats, mittens, mukluks and moccasins, along with a wide assortment of souvenirs. If you want to try making your own, craft supplies are sold too, including furs, hides and leather-working materials along with an extensive selection of jewellry-making supplies, beautiful fabrics and beads.
If you’re visiting the Yukon in late June/early July, you can attend the Adaka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse which showcases and celebrates First Nations arts & culture. It not only includes arts and crafts, traditional and contemporary music, dance, drumming, storytelling, film, artist demos and a community feast, but you’ll have the opportunity to purchase many locally or regionally mad handcrafted items.
For hundreds of years, the citizens of Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta'an Kwäch'än Council lived beside the Yukon River, or Tàgá Shäw, which means "big river" in Southern Tutchone. The banks are lined with fish camps, hunting trails, lookouts, meeting places and burial grounds. At the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, which represents the profound connection to the river, visitors can view displays of paintings, carvings and weavings as well as experience the First Nation's culture and language. Short films are also shown in the Elders' Lounge, focused on Kwanlin Dün history and culture.