When Julie Jai and her husband, David Trick, set out to create the Yukon Prize for Visual Arts, they wanted to help alleviate some of the hardships artists face.
In moving to the territory in the mid-1990s, they found a wealth of art and artists, but a lack of knowledge of Yukon art outside of the territory.
“With the first prize, we wanted to really use the prize as an opportunity to increase the dialogue between what I would call the larger art world, the larger art ecosystem outside the Yukon, and artists in the Yukon,” Julie says.
The Yukon Prize is a $20,000 cash prize, chosen by a panel of jurors. It is the largest cash prize of its kind in the territory.
Joseph Tisiga was the recipient of the first prize for his work exploring intersections of Indigenous and colonial identity, memory and social history.
Jurors had to go through 107 applications, displaying the wide range of art that can be found in the Yukon. From this, a shortlist of six was chosen.
Those shortlisted, but who did not win the main prize, each received $2,000.
Exposing the Yukon
Julie says the intention behind this was to give artists the freedom to decide how they would best use the money, whether that is towards their art, studies or well-being.
“That gives them the freedom to really pursue their art,” she says. “Whether it's to work full-time for a while, quite a day job and actually focus on art, or to go and travel somewhere or study with someone, or just do something that they haven’t been able to do because of not having this opportunity.”
Living between Toronto and Whitehorse, Julie says it was startling how little people outside of the Yukon know about the territory and its art. She says this is surprising because the territory has the largest population of artists per capita of anywhere in Canada.
“Until very recently, there were zero Yukon artists in the National Gallery in Ottawa, like none. And that only just changed a few years ago.”
With the success of the inaugural prize, Julie says work has already begun on planning the next one as well as building the profile beyond the territory’s borders.
“These are early days,” she says. “I mean, it’s our first prize. We’re in this for the long term. So, we really hope to see it grow over time. The prize will be every two years. The next one is in 2023. But we would like, the sort of vision is [for] collectors and curators and gallerists … to come for the Yukon Prize weekend and meet the artists.”
Julie is also quick to note that with each prize, all shortlisted artists have the opportunity for recognition elsewhere in Canada. To her, their success is the ultimate measure of success for the prize.
“Every time we run the prize, that will be six more Yukon artists that will be in the spotlight. So, really I think it will be seeing what happens with those artists, like much it is able to help them. And also just to help Yukon artists generally become better and known.”