Nunavut museums go digital to cope with pandemic

“Because people couldn’t come in and see the display, we put that on Instagram.”

By Dustin Patar, Nunatsiaq News - June 19, 2020
Forced to close its doors in March because of pandemic precautions, the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit has turned to social media to share some of its collection. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

A month after its opening reception, the Germaine Arnaktauyok exhibition at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit museum in Iqaluit ended abruptly, when all museum and galleries across Nunavut were instructed to close in March due to pandemic precautions.

Since then, efforts have been made to take some of their collection online.

“Because people couldn’t come in and see the display, we put that on Instagram,” said Jessica Kotierk, manager and curator of the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit museum.

“Then on Facebook, we’ve been promoting some contests and are trying to work with other arts organizations to promote different things that are happening.”

Nunatta Sunakkutaangit wasn’t alone in having to close its doors or turning to social media during the pandemic.

According to a recent report released by the International Council of Museums that analyzed the results of a global survey on the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on museums, nearly 95 per cent of the 1,600 respondents said they had also closed.

More than half of them also indicated an increase in social media use.

Aside from Instagram and Facebook, Kotierk says they also hope to update their website.

Nunatta Sunakkutaangit isn’t the only museum in the territory looking to take some of their collection online.

Jennifer Ullulaq, manager of the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven, says they plan to start working on a website this summer that would allow online visitors to pay a small fee to explore the museum virtually through videos.

Like Nunatta Sunakkutaangit, the Nattilik Heritage Centre closed in March due to the pandemic.

Although they’re now open for one guest at a time, the outlook isn’t good.

The majority of visitors to the museum under normal circumstances are summer tourists.

“We were looking forward to the cruise ship season,” said Ullulaq.

Because of the pandemic, that entire season was cancelled, along with the revenue it brings.

“Usually at this time of the year we purchase local arts and crafts but we couldn’t right now,” said Ullulaq.

As of now, the museum hasn’t had to lay anyone off. Instead, they’ve opted to reduce hours and find other ways of keeping staff busy and generating revenue, including building canvas tents to be sold to community members.

Kotierk and three other part-time staff at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit have also found ways to keep busy and avoid layoffs while shuttered, including decluttering, cleaning and organizing their collections.

“I’ve worked here for over a year now and there was actually never a time I could sort of catch up with these things that have been building up,” said Kotierk.

“I’m really happy, thinking forward, that we can have a good, fresh, strong start again.”

Despite the Government of Nunavut giving the go-ahead for galleries, museums and libraries to be opened for individual viewing, Kotierk says they’re still working on the logistics of what that would look like.

In the meantime, guests can continue to check out their website and social media accounts.