Imagine North by Crystal Kolt


Life in the north always seems a little betwixt and between, interspersed with sudden bursts of energy. It’s difficult to explain, but often I have the feeling that everything is equally at our fingertips and just beyond reach. A community in Northern Manitoba may have carpets of berries just outside its doors and yet acquiring supplies like natural wool or acrylic paint or a violin teacher may be difficult if not darn near impossible to attain. It reminds me of a warm evening in late June when the night sky is never completely black, settling with a deep blue before shimmering with the glow of sunrise a few hours later. We seem to be in a perpetual state of twilight. That being said, there is a certain calm resiliency and, dare I say, confidence that accompanies living in this state. You are not rushed into anything. You have time to figure things out. That’s not to say that life does not get chaotic. Of course, it does, but in the north you can take the time necessary to look around and see what is going on and what needs to be supported. But suddenly, and quite magically the night sky dances and things start to happen.

Sitting in my armchair in Flin Flon I watch The imagiNorthern Project swirl across the north like a beautiful aurora borealis. ImagiNorthern Champion Coordinator Kristy Janvier shares with the Flin Flon Arts Council the activity happening in the northern depots. I get a glimpse of Cheryl Antonio whipping up cultural activities in The Pas, The light shimmers shyly across the Saskatchewan River to Opasquia Cree Nation then shoots up towards Mall of the Arts founder Andria Stevens in Thompson whose task is to lead the community to a successful Northern Juried Art Show and here the light dances rapidly in reds and greens between Flin Flon and Thompson, then The Pas and Thompson helping her reach her goal. The light disappears for a moment before, suddenly, a finger slowly ripples towards Churchill and starts to glow. Roy Mexted is creating one video after another about life in Churchill while Kyle Dingwall and the Churchill Creative Collective are organizing events and trying to find a home for their art. The beams float between Churchill and Tadoule Lake, then suddenly veers across the night sky taking me to visit Lars Stoltz in Snow Lake. Lars has big plans and the ambition to get them accomplished. It’s beautiful to witness. There is a hint of activity in Lac Brochet, and perhaps Norway House before a burst of rays zips towards Flin Flon where NorVA, The Uptown Emporium and The Flin Flon Community Choir, are bustling with activity getting ready for Culture Days. Then, we unexpectedly return to twilight. 

It is time to reflect on what we have experienced.

Photo of Flin Flon

The imagiNorthern Project

ImagiNorthern is an innovative strategy with the purpose of expanding regional economic opportunities in the arts and creative industries in Northern Manitoba, while creating employment and self-employment opportunities in communities across the north, in addition to discovering and supporting northern talent. It builds a network of support for northern artists in all disciplines by establishing northern depots while concurrently developing a centralized marketing and e-commerce campaign that establishes access to markets across Canada and internationally.

The ImagiNorthern network, working under the umbrella of the Flin Flon Arts Council, has been established with representation from Churchill, Thompson, Flin Flon, The Pas, Norway House and other key regions through seed money from Community Futures Greenstone with support from the Northern Association of Community Councils, Manitoba Mineral Development Fund, MB Chamber of Commerce, Creative Manitoba and several foundations.

The Uptown Emporium (UE), an existing model of a depot started by The Flin Flon Arts Council’s desire to support local artisans during COVID-19, is being up-scaled to establish a network of similar depots across the north. Starting in December 2020, the UE has grown from 11 to over 100 vendors. It most recently has expanded its reach to create a test depot in The Pas, and conversations for expansion have been discussed with the Churchill Creative Collective and Mall of the Arts in Thompson. It is this collaboration and mutual agreement from the northern arts community, along with the impressive growth over such a short time, that led the FFAC to undertake this project.

The Vision of the imagiNorthern Project

Guided by our no-limits innovative spirit and shared love and respect for the land we inhabit, we endeavor to build a thriving, inclusive arts and cultural sector that plays a profound role in a diversified economy, supports health and well-being of artists and communities, and celebrates and makes known the world over the North’s rich tapestry of cultures, languages, artistic and creative expressions.