The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) Inuit Art Centre represents more than just a museum to WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys.

“It’s a building. It’s a museum. It’s a gallery. But it’s also, for us, a forum, a dialogue, a connection, a link to the North [and] a link to Indigenous communities,” says Borys. “It’s a way for us to connect with Inuit communities across the country and beyond.”

The 40,000-square-foot centre adjacent to the WAG is nearing completion and expected to open by early 2021. It will serve as a dedicated home for the WAG’s extensive Inuit art collection, as well as an accessible gathering place with classrooms and interactive aspects to further engage visitors. Once completed, the Inuit Art Centre will be the largest exhibition space dedicated to Indigenous art in North America.

“It’s a great space for learning, for entertainment, and for fun,” explains Borys. “But it’s also for dialogue and understanding at the highest level.”

A team of all-Inuit guest curators representing the four regions of Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit regions of Canada) have been selected to develop the Centre’s inaugural exhibitions. Led by curator and academic Heather Igloliorte, the team includes emerging artists and curators asinnajaq, Kablusiak and Krista Ulujuk Zawadski.

Borys says the Centre’s been a long time in the making. WAG began collecting Inuit art in the 1950s, with a focus on building its collection emerging in the 1970s.

Today, the WAG holds in trust the largest public collection of Inuit art in the world, with around 14,000 artworks, including 7,380 pieces on long-term loan from the Government of Nunavut. Thanks to the Centre’s three-storey Visible Vault, thousands of carvings from the collection which would otherwise be kept in an off-site vault will be kept on public display.

Rendering of the Visible Vault by Michael Maltzan Architecture courtesy of Winnipeg Gallery of Art.

The $65 million-dollar price tag of the project was met through government support at the municipal, provincial and federal level totaling $35 million, with the additional $30 million coming from the private sector through donations.

“It’s a great moment for the WAG, for Winnipeg, for Manitoba and Canada, that here in Winnipeg is not just the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art, but the first centre of its kind to be developed in the South,” says Borys reflecting on what the experience of seeing the Centre come together has meant to him. “It’s incredibly exhilarating and humbling.”

While an exact opening date is still to be determined in part due to COVID-19 related delays, the public opening is expected for late 2020 or early 2021. As part of an initiative around accessibility, admission to the first floor of the centre will be free.

For more information on the Inuit Art Centre, visit inuit.wag.ca

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