Whitehorse’s historic Jenni House has become a new home for artists.
The century-old log cabin, located among several other heritage buildings in Shipyards Park, has been leased by the city to the Yukon Film Society as the location for their new artist residency program.
The program, which began in May and wraps up in October, will see a succession of artists dwell in the building for month-long stints.
Andrew Connors, the film society’s artistic director, says he has seen the need for such a space for artists for a while, and is glad the opportunity came up.
“It’s obviously filling a need,” said Connors. “I think it will engage with the community in a really positive and enriching way.”
Douglas Drake, a video and installation artist originally from New Jersey, stayed in the Jenni House for June. He said it was helpful to stay in a space that wasn’t tucked away in a quiet part of the city. “Being downtown you constantly see the activity of this park and the Millennium Trail that goes through it,” he said. “You see just about everybody come through here at some point it seems.”
During his time in the studio, he used the space to construct a new piece for Whitehorse Nuit Blanche last month, and opened the doors of the studio to the public during the event. Artists in the program are expected to hold an open studio at least once during their stay.
It’s that kind of community engagement that Connors is excited about and hopes will continue throughout the program. The location in Shipyards Park is pivotal for that engagement he said, as it links the artist with the public’s recreation space. “It’s the combination of it being a workspace and being in the community that makes it special,” he said.
The Jenni House, named after former owner Ed Jenni, is one of the oldest buildings in Whitehorse. Build in 1899 on the far side of the Yukon River, it was moved to Front Street the following year and formed part of the Pioneer Hotel. The cabin still sports the hotel’s original false front.
In the 1950s it was bought by Max Krushner and brought to Shipyards Park, an area that was, at the time, home to many squatters.
“Bohemia in it’s own way,” describes Connors. “This area sort of fostered certain freelance, free-spirit, old-style, old-Yukon atmosphere.”
Local historian Helene Dobrowolsky described Shipyards Park at that time as “a real community of free spirits.” Residents would often get together over bonfires and play music, she said.
Getting back to the offbeat, artistic nature of the area is one thing that drew the film society to the area, said Connors. When the city tendered submissions, the film society jumped at the chance.
“It’s great that the city recognized that there is this need and that that’s maybe a better use than office space.”
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