Gabrielle Swan View from The Pas


One of the best kept secrets (not intentionally) in the north is its creative energy and strong production capacity. The wonderful mix of cultures North of 53 encourages to new ways of looking at and delivering artistic endeavours. The recent conference in The Pas energized everyone who attended.

For the second year running, University College of The North (UCN) has sponsored the Northern Arts Workshop, a 4-day-long conference uniting communities from northern Manitoba with industry leaders from across Canada to strengthen and develop our creative economy. This year’s conference took place in The Town of The Pas at UCN’s flagship campus. It was led by facilitator Inga Petri, who specializes in strategy, marketing and planning in arts, culture, and technology. As someone living in the Yukon, Inga is no stranger to the challenges and possibilities that exist for rural communities when it comes to the creative sector.

The conference is the brainchild of the newly launched imagiNorthern Collective and UCN’s president Doug Lauvstad. When I spoke with Doug about why UCN felt it was important to bring this vision to life he said, “UCN created this workshop to provide a platform to artists, educators, advocates, and others to collaborate in developing and supporting the promise and growth of the arts community in northern Manitoba. Our goal was to create a forum for discussion to amplify the impact, benefits, and value of the arts in northern Manitoba”.

imagiNorthern was formed in 2022 and began with the mission of uniting members from arts councils across northern Manitoba with shared goals for their communities. Each community has a designated champion, and the group is now composed of: Churchill, Thompson, Flin Flon, Snow Lake, The Pas/OCN and surrounding communities (Moose Lake, Cranberry, Wanless & Cormorant). In addition to these champions, the advisory board includes guidance from Creative Manitoba’s executive director, Thom Sparling, Manitoba Arts Network’s executive director, Rose-Anne Harder, The City of Flin Flon’s director of the Department of Culture and Community Initiatives, Crystal Kolt and me, Gabrielle Swan, chair of The Destination Marketing Committee for Town of The Pas.

What makes this workshop so special and different was the fabulous lineup of speakers collected by UCN, including a keynote address by The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, who was unable to attend in person but has pledged her commitment to support the project as it progresses. Other presenters who provided much value to the workshop are Theresie Tungilik from Nunavut, the National President for CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens); Jim Blake from Haliburton, Ontario and the co-founder of the Haliburton County Community-Cooperative; Christine Genier from Yukon, a broadcast journalist, writer, poet, performer an language and culture worker with a focus on bridging culture and recovering Indigenous Space; Artists Jackie Traverse, Ruby Bruce, and Melanie Gamache; Noah Wilson from Futurpreneur, whose focus is on Indigenous finance professionals; and Patricia Eve Martin from Toronto the grant coordinator for Indigenous Youth Roots.

One of the exciting additions to the workshop this year was the collaboration with Food and Beverage Manitoba (formerly the Manitoba Food Processors Association). Katie Damon and Erica Wison are part of the Food and Beverage Manitoba team who are mandated to support northern initiatives. They led several sessions during the four days highlighting the intersection of arts and food and how and where the creative sector can model itself after the food sector for sustainable growth. In addition to these two dynamic individuals, we also had the pleasure of hearing from Lyn Brown, the owner of Pickled Loon Kitchen in Flin Flon and Lex van Dyck from Winnipeg, the supply coordinator at Fireweed Food Co-op.

Next year’s conference will be held in May 2025 in the City of Thompson. For anyone who wants to support a thriving arts culture in the north and feels they have value they can add, please contact [email protected] to request an invitation to next year’s Northern Arts workshop.

Gabrielle Swan moved to The Town of The Pas 18-months ago after spending a decade in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Design from Toronto Metropolitan University with a major in communications and a minor in marketing. Swan brings her love of art and non-profit experience to a community who is most welcoming to an outsider. Swan serves as the Chair of the Destination Marketing Committee, the Treasurer of The Pas Guest List Inc, is a board member of The Pas Arts Council and is a committee member of Imaginorthern.