Studies in National and International Development


National and International Development

site header

The Business of Inuit Art in the 21st Century: the Devolution Dilemma

Norman Vorano

Queen’s National Scholar (QNS) in Indigenous visual and material cultures of the Americas


The growth of contemporary Inuit art in the early 1950s was, in the words of Arctic anthropologist Nelson Graburn, “one of the cultural miracles of the twentieth century.”  With the markets for white fox pelt decimated, the financial success of the Inuit art enterprise triggered a wider socioeconomic transformation in the Canadian Eastern Arctic that saw the birth of the cooperative movement and pan-arctic political organizations. Inuit art has contributed to shaping Inuit identities, cultural pride and even a national identity for Canada.  But the world of Inuit art is in great flux; art making as a viable career is becoming more difficult. In the 21st century, globalization, administrative devolution, and changing art-world paradigms have created new challenges and dilemmas for artists, administrators, and promoters – as well as new forms of cultural expression that suggest future trends. 

Norman Vorano

About the Speaker: Norman Vorano is a National Scholar and assistant professor in art history at Queen’s University. From 2005 to 2014, hewas the Curator of Contemporary Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum of History[formerly Canadian Museum of Civilization]. Vorano received his PhD from the Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester, NY, with a dissertation that critically examined the production, consumption and exhibition of Inuit carving in the mid-twentieth century. He has researched and published on emerging and senior contemporary artists in Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung and in urban centres in southern Canada. His 2011 exhibition (co-curated with Ming Tiampo and AsatoIkeda), Inuit Prints, Japanese Inspiration: Early Printmaking in the Canadian Arctic, examined the historical linkage between Japanese printmaking and Cape Dorset printmaking in the late 1950s. He is now working on a project involving mid-twentieth century graphic arts from the North Baffin Region