Canadian Museum of Inuit Art

Founded in 2007, the Canadian Museum of Inuit Art was located in Toronto and featured exhibits dedicated to Inuit culture and art. The establishment closed doors in 2016 mainly due to a decrease in revenue and the number of visitors after construction activities that took place along Queens Quay West. Sadly, due to financial struggles, the establishment closed permanently because it was running mainly on revenues from sales in the gift shop as well as grants and donations.

Workshops and Activities

The museum operated for 9 years and organized educational workshops to teach visitors about Inuit culture and contemporary art. Workshops were organized by Inuit artists such as Jaco Ishulutak, Sylvia Cloutier, and Noah Maniapik. They focused on different themes, crafts, and activities, including carving, throat singing, and printmaking.

The Museum’s Collection and Works of Art

The museum showcased a collection of prints, wall hangings, and sculptures made by Inuit artists. Diverse materials are used to create original works of art, from bone and ivory to caribou antler, stone, sealskin, and others. The museum also featured a collection of abstract works of art and sculptures made of whale bones. In fact, the collection comprised between 600 and 1,000 works of art, including textile art, ceramics, drawings, prints, and more. Some pieces were part of the permanent exhibition while others were on loan from different exhibits and collections. The large sculptures were quite impressive, and there was a multimedia area for visitors to learn about the artist who created the bulk of works of art showcased in the museum. The majority of works of art were displayed in the museum thanks to the sponsorship of Eric Sprott.

Different exhibitions were showcased in the museum, the most notable of which The Art of Play and Celebrating Five Decades of Artistic Achievement.


The idea behind the museum was to encourage visitors to learn more about Inuit heritage and history. The collection also offered visitors the opportunity to discover different aspects of Inuit culture and communities from all across Canada. This was the only public museum to feature works of art devoted to Inuit culture. The main goal was to use revenue in support of acquisition, educational, and cultural programs.

Additional Information

A visit took between about 30 minutes and 1 ½ hours on average. There was also a gift shop for visitors to buy souvenirs as well as books, packing dolls, and jewelry. Inuit paintings could be purchased at a store on the other side of the Museum of Inuit Art. The establishment was also an admissions partner of the Gardiner Museum, Design Exchange, and the Bata Shoe Museum.

Other Museums That Showcase Inuit Art

There are other museums that feature works of art and artefacts, including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Royal Ontario Museum. They all have good size collections that are dedicated to Inuit art. The Art Gallery of Ontario, for example, showcases a collection of over 175 works of art, including drawings, prints, and sculptures. The collection displays the works of notable artists such as Annie Pootoogook, Karoo Ashevak, Kenojuak Ashevak, and David Piqtoukun, among others. New places are also being opened to showcase Inuit culture and art. The Inuit Art Centre will open doors in 2020 to help educate the public and visitors about Canadian Inuit culture, language, heritage, and art.

Inuit Art

Inuit art is art by indigenous people who work across different genres such as sculpture, graphics, painting, carving, and others.


The history of Inuit art can be traced back to the Dorset and Pre-Dorset nomadic people who lived in Labrador, the Canadian Arctic, and other parts of the world. Carvings from 4000 BC have been found and preserved, with figures such as seals, walruses, bears, birds, and humans. The Pre-Dorset culture, also known as Paleo-Eskimo, produced diverse objects and works of art, including artefacts with geometric figures and designs, ivory seals, and maskettes from bone, wood, and other materials. During the Dorset period, nomadic people produced various works of art that reflect the influence of shamanism at that time. Pieces include human-seal and human-bear figures, animal and naturalistic carvings, and other 3-dimensional carvings. The Ipiutak culture perished around 800 CE but produced a number of elaborate pieces of art, including pieces with anthropomorphic, animal, and geometric designs. The Thule people, who are the ancestors of todays’ Inuit, left various tools and artefacts such as spears, pots, needle cases, and buttons, decorated with graphic elements. Archeologists have found objects such as figurines and figures, amulets, and dance masks adorned in accord with their mythology.

Types of Art

There are different types and forms of art, including sculpture, block printing, relief printing, carving, and others. Artists utilize diverse materials such as stone, ivory, and bone, among others. Some artists focus exclusively on the human figure while others create geometric designs and geometric abstractions.

The most common type of art is argillite or soapstone carving with representations and images of birds, walruses, bears, and other animals. Family scenes are also common in Inuit art. Small masks adorned with birds and animals are created as well. Sculpture is also a form of art embraced by many Inuit artists. They create sculptures that represent walking bears, dancing gooses, walruses, hunters, eagles, caribous, and a lot more. Materials that are used to create sculptures include marine mammal ivory, antlers, and animal bones. Pieces of art are carved and shaped by hand. Works can range from accents to master carvings.

Notable Inuit Artists

The list of notable artists is quite long and includes names such as John Pangnark, Pitseolak Ashoona, David Ruben Piqtoukun, and Kenojuak Ashevak to name a few. Kenojuak Ashevak, for example, is known as one of the founders of modern Inuit art and has utilized different styles and materials such as acrylics, watercolors, poster paints, felt-tip pens, and colored pencils. A famous print of hers, called the The Enchanted Owl is showcased on a Canadian post stamp. David Ruben Piqtoukun is a Canadian artist who focuses mostly on prints and sculptures and utilizes materials such as soapstone, caribou antler, walrus ivory, and other unusual and non-traditional materials. Manasie Akpaliapik specializes in carving, and his works are showcased in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. Germaine Arnaktauyok is also a prolific Canadian Inuit artist who works in and experiments with different genres, including drawing, painting, and printmaking. He produces various types of work such as serigraphs, etchings, and lithographs that illustrate Inuit tradition and mythology. Born in the Northwest Territories, Peter Pitseolak was a Canadian Inuit artist, sculptor, and photographer. His first photographs were actually developed in a hunting igloo. Other notable artists of Inuit origin include Simeonie Keenainak, Annie Pootoogook, Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq, Nick Sikkuark, and many others.

Inuit artists also work across a variety of genres such as beading, embroidery, tapestry, doll making, soft sculpture, sculpture, and so on. They use a combination of techniques and materials such as stone, ivory, tusks, fur, antler, and bone. While many artists focused on home-grown materials until recently, an increasing number of artists employ non-traditional materials such as whale bone, marble, granite, and others. And while Inuit people were more isolated in the past due to long distances to their communities, today more and more artists relocate to reach wider audiences. Artists increasingly organize and participate in workshops, exhibition openings, teaching workshops, symposia, conferences, and meetings.

Inuit People Struggling Financially

Inuit people struggle financially nowadays and face multiple problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, heavy borrowing and indebtedness, bad credit, unemployment, and social problems.

Social Problems

Housing and Nutrition

Inuit people face social and health problems and have a shorter life expectancy compared to average Canadians. This can be explained by a combination of factors, including unsanitary conditions, over-crowded housing, higher suicide rate, and higher accident rate. Many families live in houses that are in need of serious repair. Some of them lack basic services such as wastewater systems and water services. Water contamination is a serious problem as a result of this. Overcrowded housing conditions are the major reason for diseases and epidemics in Inuit communities. Poor diet is also a risk factor that contributes to the lower life expectancy in many communities. While hunting used to be subsidized in the recent past, this is no longer so. There is a new program in place – Nutrition North which aims to offer low-cost food by giving subsidies to retailers. At the same time, food products and basic necessities are transported long distances and the result is a more limited choice, higher food costs, and poor food quality.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Suicide Rate, and Family Violence

The higher suicide rate is also a serious problem that can be addressed by offering enhanced social, health, and mental services. Drug and alcohol abuse is also more widespread in Inuit communities and is often accompanied by problems such as abuse and violence to children and family violence. Investment in support and prevention programs has the potential to solve these problems as least in part. This is an important step in light of the fact that young people are the most affected. The effects of tobacco use and alcohol and drug abuse on unborn children can be quite serious. Illicit drugs contribute to the problem.

Unemployment, Poverty, and Indebtedness

Unemployment is one of the major reasons for the higher poverty rate and indebtedness in Inuit communities ( Higher unemployment levels can be partly explained by the fact that only about 50 percent of Inuit have postsecondary education. A number of studies highlight that employment opportunities, income, and educational levels are directly related. Moreover, in traditional Inuit culture, learning takes place in an informal environment and through discussion, listening, and observation. Culture-sensitive programs can help close the education and income gap between Inuit and the rest of Canada.

Still, educational levels vary by region and community and in Nunavut, for example, some 21 percent of Inuit have a college or university diploma. The fact that there are fewer employment opportunities is also a serious problem. One of the reasons for this is the poor infrastructure in and near Inuit communities which fails to support housing for workers and employees and doesn’t meet industry standards.

Unemployment is a serious problem in many Inuit communities, and studies confirm this. Research shows that the unemployment rate is 4 times higher compared to the national average. What is more, Inuit people have lower income levels than average Canadians which contributes to higher poverty rates. While the median income for non-Aboriginal Canadians was slightly over $60,000 in 2005, the median income for Aboriginal populations was little less than $16,700. Obviously, indebtedness, heavy borrowing, and bad credit are the result of unemployment, poverty, and related social problems that plague Inuit communities. The fact that there are lenders that offer zero down payment loans ( and instant approval contributes to these problems. In light of the lower income levels, many Inuit people are unable to keep up with payments and have average or poor credit.

Migration to Urban Centers

Because of the combination of social and economic problems, more and more Inuit migrate to cities and other urban centers in search of employment and better living conditions. In fact, a study in 2011 reveals that more than 37 percent of Inuit people live in large cities outside Nunangat. Nunangat or Inuit’s homeland spans territories across the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, northern Quebec, and Labrador. This is a sharp increase compared to 2006 when the figure was just 22 percent.

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