Bright and lit, Qaumajuq's building will serve as a beacon of reconciliation in Manitoba as it officially opens Thursday.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery's (WAG) newest addition, Qaumajuq (pronounced kow-ma-yourk), is more than only an Innuit art centre to CEO and Director Dr. Stephan Borys.
"This is more than a gallery, it is more than a museum. It is a place, it is a discussion. It is a place for dialogue, learning, understanding, and perhaps most importantly for reconciliation," Borys says.
As reflective as snow, the site is a focus of reconciliation for WAG, including disclosing the colonial history of the art pieces' history and how they came to WAG. Borys says the art is leading them to a hopeful future. The director says he believes there is a change in the centre thanks to community engagement.
Seventy years in the making, Borys says former WAG director Dr. Ferdinand Eckhardt began collecting Inuit art pieces for the gallery in the '50s. Decades later the pieces are being highlighted at Qaumajuq in a visible vault.
"Art is one of the most accessible, universal tools we have to allow people, communities, nations, share and help understand each other."
The director says Winnipeg has historically been a link to the north, making the city an excellent choice for Qaumajuq. While mostly Inuit, the centre features many different Indigenous cultures including Metis.
Borys says the first thing people will see stepping into the main hall is light.
"It is this light-filled space, the ceilings rise up 21 feet and it is all glass. What they will see once they get beyond the light is this incredible three-story visible vault, the largest of its kind in the world, housing the largest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world."
Accessibility to art is important to Borys, understanding that people might not feel welcome in an art gallery. He is hoping to change this perspective.
"We want to engage those people who have walked by, driven by, cycled by, who have not felt comfortable coming in our doors. We want to give them not just a reason, but we want to tell them we welcome you."
He says the naming circle for Qaumajuq gifted the WAG an Ojibwe name, Biindigin Biwaasaeyaah (pronounced BEEN- deh-gen Bi-WAH-say-yah). It means "come on in the light is here," a goal of Borys'.
While set to be a grand affair, the grand opening is happening online. WAG is open to the public under the current Public Health Orders but will be closed for the grand opening on March 26 and 27. Admission from March 27 to April 2 is free, but those participating must register.
Being COVID-careful WAG is keeping its doors closed and moving the grand opening festivities online, including screening a documentary.