Skip to content

Dawson City considers new worlds of art

Artists continue to carve out a little space for themselves during Dawson City's Discovery Day party. The annual Yukon Riverside Arts Festival started with only 20 artists in tents along the Yukon River.

Artists continue to carve out a little space for themselves during Dawson City’s Discovery Day party.

The annual Yukon Riverside Arts Festival started with only 20 artists in tents along the Yukon River just over a decade ago, said organizer Megan Graham.

Now in its 11th year, it takes over stages, tents and gazebos along Front Street for three days.

“Over the years, they started adding new things,” said Graham. “But I think it’s been good to kind of calm the weekend down.”

This year showcases a variety of new editions.

For the first time, there will be workshops specifically for children (Kite making and clowning), said Graham.

It is also the first year the festival has registered an official outdoor installation category.

And most notably, it is the first year the festival will include culinary arts.

“There’s definitely a niche of people here who are interested in food and have always talked about, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be great if we had a food festival,’” she said.

Two Yukon cooks, who have recently published books, will join forces for the festival.

“They’re doing a wild plant and berry walk on Saturday morning and then they’re doing demonstrations on Saturday afternoon,” said Graham.

The culinary artists, Miche Genest and Beverley Grey, will also team up with interpreters from the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre to explore local and traditional medicines and teas as well, said Graham.

“There’s definitely the interest there and that’s one of the events I’m most excited about,” she said.

While the festival is situated during one of the Klondike town’s busiest tourism weekends, it still fosters a strong focus on local arts.

“I guess it’s kind of the idea that maybe you take an art workshop during the festival in the summer and then you have something to keep you busy during the winter,” she said. “You go to the arts festival, you discover a new medium or technique, your interest is kinda piqued and you want to be involved year round.”

Most of the festival’s artists are Yukoners.

Of the 32 fine artists and 20 musicians registered, only two are from Alaska, two are from Calgary and two from the Northwest Territories.

That doesn’t include the ODD Gallery’s contribution, however.

The entire festival kicks off with their seventh edition of The Natural & Manufactured project, which includes talks and exhibition openings from contemporary artists from Toronto and Chicago.

Thursday night continues with a town-wide “gallery hop” of exhibition openings from other local and regional artists as well, said Graham.

This year’s addition of the outdoor installation category will include pieces from a giant pinball game, bouncing participants around the Dawson City bar scene, to a sound installation on the Ninth Avenue trail. But most interestingly, these artists will be working on their most recent work while the festival is taking place.

That includes local artist Harreson Tanner, who will be sculpting a bust of the Han Chief Isaac, who took the Tr’ondek Hwech’in people across to Moosehide during the gold rush to help preserve their culture. Tanner will be donating the bust to the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre.

All artists in this category are scheduled to have their work done in time for the “installation walk” at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Film is not being neglected, either. Two aboriginal filmmakers will be featured during the festival.

Yukoner Dennis Allen’s CBQM and British Columbia’s Banchi Hanuse’s Cry Rock will be screened at the cultural centre on Friday night.

But the festival’s “special” event is always on Saturday night. And this year, the inspiration came from a series originating in 1997, New York City.

“The story behind it is the founder of this series, when he lived in Georgia, he had a group of friends and they would all tell stories on the porch,” said Graham. “They would tell stories late into the night and there’d be just one light on and it would attract all these moths.”

So, Dawson is hosting it’s very first “MothUp,” which is really just a storytelling session with a few requirements: anyone is welcome to tell a story so long as it doesn’t take much longer than five minutes. It must be a true story and it must mesh with the selected theme of “Quittin’ time.”

As with most of the Saturday special events in the festival’s past, Graham expects this MothUp to stay largely local.

“It’s really nice to have something kind of community based that’s enjoyable for locals and also for visitors,” she said.

The festival, presented by the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, kicks off Thursday night and continues until Sunday.

For a full schedule and more information visit

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at