The following publication-ready feature story, "Yukon Artists @ Work: Soho of the North", was written for Tourism Yukon by local writer Darrell Hookey. You are welcome to publish the piece free of charge and images to accompany the article are available by contacting our media relations department at the email address below. If you do print the story we would appreciate recveiving a copy of the published piece. Tourism Yukon wholly owns the rights to "Yukon Artists @ Work: Soho of the North".
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Yukon Artists @ Work: Soho of the North
by Darrell Hookey
New York City has its Soho District; Paris has its Montmartre; and Yukon has its … McCrae Industrial Area?
No wonder the website Travelocity voted Yukon Artists @ Work as one of the Top 15 Local Secrets, Big Finds of 2005. It is a well-appointed gallery, lovingly managed, found at the end of a road that contains a scrap yard, corrugated metal warehouse and auto body shop.
Harreson Tanner, a founding member of the artist’s co-op that was born in August 2003, says at any one time between 30 and 45 Yukon artists have a home there to display their original works. Before 2003, only six or seven artists were able to display original works in the territory’s art galleries that concentrate on the more profitable prints and reproductions.
This is not an ideal situation as Tanner believes the Yukon has the highest concentration of artists in North America. But, with a population of just over 30,000, there are only three of those one-in-10,000 customers who buy original art that costs $1,500+.
Once first-time visitors have found the construction warehouse that houses the art gallery, they head toward the funky Pagoda-style canopy protruding from a second-floor door.
Standing on the deck, they need only to turn their head to catch a glimpse of Grey Mountain, then Mount Lorne, then Golden Horn, Mount Sima and Granger Mountain. And, just beyond the trees below the parking lot, stretches out the mighty Yukon River.
“Imagine the thinking back then when they decided to put an industrial park in such a beautiful place,” Tanner says. He then opens a door to the gallery and waits for the audible gasp he often hears. It is a magnificent room. The hardwood floor is ringed with ceramic tile and “there is a floor on the ceiling”, Tanner says happily. Sure enough, it is made up of pine planking. Screwed into the ceiling at random places are panels that reach the floor and contain Stephanie Ryan’s watercolour snowscapes and Kate Williams’ hand-spun dog hair wearable art.
Not so random, Tanner explains. The panels are moved every month to avoid the changing path of the sun that shines light through the wall of windows along the left side.
Opposite this wall is a bar counter for a full kitchen that now serves as a sales desk and coffee and tea that are always on.
Sitting on pedestals are Jeanine Baker’s fused glass plates and bowls; Bud Young’s moose antlers; and Tony Painter’s mammoth ivory carvings.
Tanner leads the tour up one level and into another room – there are six rooms and six levels, he explains – where Joyce Majiski’s acrylics and mixed media are hung, opposite Tanner’s own clay masks and Nicole Bauberger’s mountains in oil.
And, on the way to an adjoining hallway, there is a tremendously complex and genius sculpture, crafted in the cubist fashion by David Conley in three months of effort, that is made from aspen burl, diamond willow, birch and mahogany.
The hallway itself is lined with gas-fired pottery by Lynne Sofiak and lino-cut prints by Dawson City’s mayor, John Steins.
Two rooms off of the hallway are devoted to small original works, art cards, magnets and mounted prints for those visitors encumbered by luggage.
The hallway spills into another room with Marten Berkman photography on one wall, a Bob Atkinson willow and aspen chess board/table and chairs set in the centre along with nationally renown ceramic production potter Patrick Royle’s fireweed line and Peter Kazda’s carved faces in cottonwood bark.
This room leads to a sun-drenched glassed-in deck that fittingly has Lisanna Sullivan’s stained glass hanging and three-dimensional pieces.
This is a huge improvement over its humble beginnings. YA@W started with 12 artists housed in a skid shack in the parking lot of this construction warehouse. It was an arrangement with the building’s owner, a carpenter by trade, who wanted to concentrate the building trades in one location. But she had a soft spot for artists and has offered more and more support to the point she rented her own living quarters in the building to YA@W at a drastically reduced rate when she moved out.
This community of artists had already been growing in the McCrae Industrial Park and the building now houses the YA@W Gallery and studio space for nine artists that is accessible from the gallery’s back door.
Tanner is proud of Yukon Artists @ Work. Having a place to display original works is a valuable part of the process in the development of an artist. And to have a ready group of colleagues to collaborate with and just hang out with is a tremendous source of encouragement and support.
“Just yesterday we had six or seven artists drop in,” says Tanner. “It is like a clubhouse or tree fort.
“On the first day they pay their membership fee, they get a key and the alarm code.”
It isn’t as easy as that, though. Each new member must be a professional artist and juried in and they must agree to work 12 five-hour shifts a year. This helps keep expenses down and ensures there is always a bonafide Yukon artist in the gallery to help customers. With a fee each pays to be a member, that works out to just one dollar a day, three quarters of the rent is paid thus taking the pressure off for lots of sales.
This gives the artists a chance to display work that may not be for sale. Tanner says these pieces act as portfolios that help the artist obtain commissions.
Tanner says it is liberating to have such a support network. These Yukon artists do not work in isolation anymore. Instead of only a chance meeting at show openings, they now have lunches and they explore the opportunities to collaborate on pieces.
Indeed, a new project is being launched that will start with each artist’s name being placed in a hat. Pairs of these tags will be drawn and those two artists will collaborate.
In 2006, when the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery wanted to show the work of a variety of Yukon artists, it was YA@W that it approached to curate the show.
Having that many artists sitting on the board and exchanging ideas, there is always something going on at Yukon Artists @ Work. Tanner says it acquired surplus picnic tables from the Yukon Territorial Government and its members challenged each other to create art from each to be sold.
They will be doing the same thing with old doors and plain wooden boxes.
And the artists are developing a sculpture park … a project that suffered a setback when its first instalment was sold.
There are also some sound marketing initiatives, too: Spousal conferences are offered for those who tag along for meetings in the Yukon and Foreign Affairs sends newly trained diplomats to the gallery for familiarization of what is available to potential tourists.
With plans for the future to put together a travelling show, YA@W may be coming to your town (but visit them in Whitehorse because, after all, location is everything).
YUKON ARTISTS @ WORK - www.yaaw.com - (867) 393-4848
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