Heather Von Steinhagen is the new executive director of Arts Underground. Von Steinhagen was born and raised in Whitehorse and has a BFA in art education from Concordia University in Montreal. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Arts Underground’s new executive director hopes to help the Yukon’s ‘spunky characters’ find their audience

Heather Von Steinhagen has been in the position since earlier this month

Heather Steinhagen had only been on the job eight days and her head was spinning.

“My gears are rolling pretty fast,” she told the News on Sept. 17.

Just over a week into her new gig as executive director of Arts Underground, Steinhagen sat in her new office on a Monday afternoon. The space was closed, its galleries dark outside her door, but Steinhagen was working on some of the ideas she’s had since taking the reins at a job she didn’t think she’d get.

When Steinhagen first heard the position was vacant this summer, it seemed like a perfect fit for her. Or it would have been, if she hadn’t been planning to move to Montreal to complete a master’s degree in art education.

At the same time that option fell through for her though, the deadline for the executive director position was extended, so she applied.

“It was a string of synchronicities,” said Steinhagen, who was born and raised in Whitehorse, and has German and Cowessess Nation Cree roots. She had previously worked as an intern at the Yukon Arts Centre, and as an arts assistant for the Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture.

She also has a visual arts diploma from Vancouver Island University, and a BFA in art education from Concordia. She has participated in Created at the Canyon in Whitehorse (an annual event that brings visual artists and musicians to Miles Canyon). She has also helped organize events including Indigenize Wikipedia and the Red Dress Project in Atlin, an installation project in response to missing and murdered women in Canada.

“I think this role is totally encompassing of everything that I’ve been interested in previous to my formal art career,” she said. “I was also in childcare, so there was a lot of community work involved with that. So I find this role kind of takes in everything that I’ve been working on.”

Steinhagen, 26, was also a member of Arts Underground, prior to running it. In fact, that’s where she had her first solo exhibition, The Things You Know, in June 2016.

That exhibition brought together oil and acrylic paintings featuring a sort of surreal science-fictitious world, full of women with eyeballs for heads, and grinning purple unicorns.

“That was really, really awesome as an emerging artist,” she said. “And I’ve taken a few workshops here that have opened me up to way more opportunities than I thought I could do. The instructor has pointed me to excellent resources.”

Partly because of that, she’s interdisciplinary these days, with a focus on painting and resin work.

Not only did membership influence her personal arts practice, Steinhagen said it’s also influencing the way she thinks about what to focus on now that she’s in a position to uphold the mandate at Arts Underground, and bring in some new ideas.

One of those is professional development.

“When I was starting out, I didn’t even know what a CV was,” she said. She’d like to offer more opportunities for members to access resources as far as the business end, and the practical components, of being an artist. She thinks it would help with confidence and promotion of their work.

“Our members are amazing and they have lots of talent, so I’m hoping to be more of a professional liaison and to help artists build their portfolios so they can step out of this gallery and kind of make more of a presence within Whitehorse and within Yukon and within Canada as a whole. And I think that begins with the artists and having them be confident in their own skills. Their creative skills and their professional administrative skills.”

In the immediate future, Steinhagen said Arts Underground is focussed on planning its upcoming year, something she’s recused herself from because she herself submitted a proposal to put on a show in one of the galleries before she applied for her current position.

She said the two galleries at Arts Underground host 12 to 14 shows a year, depending on the size and space each show needs. Right now, one of those (running until Sept. 29) is to be by the river, works from Nicole Bauberger, Lia Fabre-Dimsdale, and Blake Nelson Shaa’koon Lepine. The three artists recently completed month-long residencies at the Old Firehall, Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, and Arts Underground.

She wants to do more of that kind of thing.

“I think there are a lot of cool, really spunky characters in Whitehorse that have a lot to say, so allowing a platform for that voice to be heard is really important.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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