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Creative Manitoba is celebrating our 20th anniversary! To highlight our history and excitement about continuing to support Manitoba’s arts community, we spoke with community members who have made a particularly special mark throughout our past twenty years. These are their stories.

Crystal Kolt

In 2020, Flin Flon Arts Council was determined to support its northern artists and artisans during the pandemic. So in celebration of the 40th anniversary of its Arts and Crafts Sale, they created a physical and online store.

“It ended up being this big ‘Aha!’ moment where we realized, ‘Wait a minute, why are we only having an arts and crafts sale just one day a year?’” said Crystal Kolt, director of culture and community initiatives of the City of Flin Flon.

Testing it out as a three-month pilot project, they raised seed money and opened a small space on Flin Flon’s Main Street. Starting with 11 vendors, the store became known as the Uptown Emporium and quickly gained over 100 within a year. 

From wild rice harvested in Gummerson Lake to silk scarves hand dyed with snow, to a boreal skincare line – the council had found a way to put money in artists’ pockets. Inspired by their success and using the Uptown Emporium as a working model, the idea for imagiNorthern unfolded. 

“When you make the investment to educate artisans and give them the tools to be confident in their abilities to be small businesses or a functioning artist in the business world, then that is something that benefits not only artists but our province and society in general,” said Kolt.

Working together as “northern champions,” the Churchill Creative Collective, the Thompson Mall of the Arts and The Pas Arts Council have come on board to build the group. The imagiNorthern network’s long-term plan is to create physical depots in northern communities so artists can access computers, internet connection and bandwidth alongside other tools and resources. 

“It’s actually almost like a gathering forum for members of the north to share what they’re doing in the communities and hopefully try to join forces and expose and develop and support each other,” said Kolt. 

Creative Manitoba has been an active partner, providing advice, support and proposal writing that Kolt says took the project to a whole new level when the Flin Flon Arts Council applied for and received the Canada Council For The Arts Strategic Initiative Fund. 

“Thom (Sparling) and I share the same vision of really trying to expand and to share and to collaborate with all creatives in the province. Creative Manitoba is really doing that, and it’s been much appreciated.”

Amanda Emms is a freelance writer and activist living in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 territory. Her work includes collaborations with art organizations, non-profits, public health and media outlets. The library is her favourite space.

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