The Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association is launching an online store to help support Indigenous artists who have lost opportunities to sell their work due to COVID-19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

YFNCT launching online store featuring work of Indigenous artists in the Yukon

The store, expected to launch this month, is meant to help offset the impacts of COVID-19 on sales

The Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association (YFNCT) is launching an online store to help support Indigenous artists who have lost opportunities to sell their work due to COVID-19.

The idea for the store, YFNCT arts program coordinator Courtney Holmes said in an interview July 15, came about fairly recently and in response to the cancellation of festivals and events — the Adäka Cultural Festival, for example, and the Arctic Winter Games — where artists would typically sell their work during the spring and summer.

“It seemed like a natural solution,” Holmes said, noting that the association has also recently relaunched its YFN Arts Brand program, which is meant to highlight and authenticate work by Indigenous artists in the territory.

“(The online store) is something tangible that we at YFNCT could do in support of the arts brand but of course as always to support the artists.”

The store’s website is expected to launch later this month.

Holmes said the goal of YFNCT’s online store isn’t to compete with other businesses that carry work from local artists, or to discourage artists from selling their work on social media or other online platforms — it’s just another option they can pursue, if they so wish.

Any Indigenous artists living in the Yukon, including ones who aren’t citizens of a Yukon First Nation, are eligible for the program and to submit work to the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association’s online store. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Artists who sign up for the YFN Arts Brand program also have the advantage of getting access to professional development and marketing support as well as branding materials, including stickers and information tags, to place on their work as they sell it.

“It’s a program that really helps to curb instances of cultural appropriation — we can walk into gift stores here in town and see work that’s represented as being Indigenous when it’s not,” Holmes said.

“The Indigenous arts marketplace is really thriving and people are interested in purchasing Indigneous art, so by having this authenticity program, it can communicate to the customer the work’s value, where it came from and hopefully create that connection between the consumer and the artist, and to prevent misrepresentation of Indigenous artwork in the marketplace.

Any Indigenous artists living in the Yukon, including ones who aren’t citizens of a Yukon First Nation, are eligible for the program and to submit work to the store.

YFNCT currently isn’t charging artists any commission to have their work featured in the store, Holmes said, and won’t be until at least Dec. 31, 2020, when the association’s board will look at the future of the store — there’s a chance it may just be a temporary thing — and the general economic situation.

Minnie Clark, a Teslin Tlingit Council citizen who lives near Johnson’s Crossing, is among the artists who have already submitted work to the YFNCT for the store — a sealskin and moosehide purse as well as a pair of moccasins, with more moccasins and a fur scarf to come.

“Normally, I would be in Carcross doing an artist-in-residence — that’s what I did last summer,” she said in an interview July 15.

“I went over every week and just sewed and sold to the tourists who came up through the cruise ships to Carcross, and a lot of bus tours came through, and just local people from the Yukon coming through to visit, and now with COVID, it’s kind of restricted me (in getting) my crafts out there.”

While Clark had advertised some of her work on Facebook, she said she thought that having her work sold via the online store would give her access to a wider audience and a better chance to make more sales. She added that she liked the fact that the store would only be showcasing local Indigenous work.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us, especially now with COVID,” Clark said.

“I think it is a great venue for us, the artists, to be able to submit our work so at least we’re getting a bit of income coming back, and it keeps us busy, you know? … (If) you’re going to be stuck inside, you may as well be busy doing something you enjoy, so it’ll be a great venue for us to be able to submit our work and hopefully make some sales so we can replenish our supplies.”

More information on the store, and how to sign up for the YFN Arts Brand program, is available online here.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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