Commercial art gallery

Yellowknife’s new visitor center has a gold-studded path, moss wall and much-needed gallery space

Monday marked the first time Melaw Nakehk’o saw some of his works on gallery walls.

Nakehk’o has been working on a collection of paintings for several years – figurative paintings focusing on people she knows from the North. On Monday, they became one of the first works of art to be displayed at Yellowknife’s new visitor center as part of the centre’s first art exhibit.

“They just, like, lived on the easel and then kind of got tucked away in a corner,” Nakehk’o said at the center’s grand opening Monday at noon.

How does it feel to finally see them on a wall?

“They look like real works of art! »

The area where the Nakehk’o paintings hang is a non-commercial gallery space that the city has requested from the art community. It’s inside the new Center Square Mall Visitor Information Center, complete with a Northern Lights gallery, moss wall, and more.

Northern artwork and photography adorn the walls of Yellowknife’s new visitor centre. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

Nakehk’o said it’s an incredible addition for artists in the territory.

“For an artist who has lived in Yellowknife for quite a long time, it feels really good to have a show and to share my work with people in the community,” she said.

“I love the gallery. I’m so excited for all the exhibits and to be able to celebrate other artists in Yellowknife and hopefully the Northwest Territories.”

Sarah Swan, the exhibition’s curator, said the gallery’s opening was “a dream come true” – a white-walled space the city badly needed.

“It’s exciting to see it in front of my eyes,” she said.

There’s a learning curve ahead, however – Swan said there are still questions to be answered about who will govern and manage the space and how long local artists will have to wait to exhibit their art.

“There’s still a lot to do, but I think the bottom line is that artists are excited that there’s something here for us now,” she said.

Fern leaves and round yellow flowers adorn a wicker basket atop a tree trunk inside a building.
A basket of flowers sits atop a tree trunk in Yellowknife’s new visitor center. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

A reflection of Yellowknife

Across the floor of the visitor center, a golden shimmering path leads people – a tribute to the town’s mining heritage, said Kerry Thistle, the town’s director of economic development.

“From the start we really tried to include all aspects – our traditional heritage, our mining heritage, of course we know the Northern Lights are the reason visitors often come. So how can we all interlace in a single space?” she explained, adding that they followed the advice of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation to include natural features and wood wherever they could.

“We are quite satisfied.”

An illustrated map titled Yellowknives Dene: The Copper People hangs on the wall.
The new Yellowknife Visitor Information Center focuses on the culture and history of the Chief Drygeese territory. Pictured is a map of Alison McCreesh and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said the grand opening was the culmination of years of work. This means the Visitor Center will no longer be on the lower level of City Hall.

“What’s really exciting is that it’s a beautiful space for visitors, lots of great information, really using technology to stay up to date,” she said.

Alty said her favorite features of the new center are the moss wall — “I want one in my house now,” she said — and, of course, the art gallery.

“There’s so much stuff. People have to come down and check it out,” she said.