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Meeting a Muskox

The Arctic Culture Forum shows Charlottesville a new side to far-away culture

Last Saturday, I met a muskox — well, in a way.

The Arctic Culture Forum, an educational art exhibit started by Judith Varney Burch to spread knowledge about Arctic cultures and conditions, opened its doors Saturday to students and Charlottesville residents. Community members were able to to stop by, taste some delicious baked goods, play Arctic culture games — including the creation of traditional string figures — and learn about Arctic art and culture.

The forum is located in the Arctic Inuit Gallery, on the second floor of a small yellow house down Elliewood Avenue. The space, covered with framed pieces and packed with sculptures, allows visitors to relax into the welcoming environment.

The exhibit is inviting, encouraging visitors to carry on enlightening conversations rather than speak in hushed voices. With Inuit myths sprinkled across the incredible art throughout the exhibit, it feels like you have left Charlottesville and entered the Arctic. Most notably, the central piece, the Muskox, a furry arctic mammal, brings the exhibit to life. Who would have thought I would meet one in central Virginia?

Burch personally collected the museum’s pieces and is able to identify their origins and even the artists who made the pieces. “With the art itself, there’s something — it’s a visceral kind of quality,” she said. “I’m seeing the story of the North in this art.”

Personally friends with many of the artists, Burch is able to get the full history of each work of art. One wall hanging tells the story of Sedna, the Goddess of the Sea. The added personality and context make visitors feel like insiders as they wander through the museum.

A hidden gem in the Charlottesville arts scene, the forum will be hosting a film for the upcoming Virginia Film Festival after partnering with Charlottesville’s Aboriginal art museum to produce “Uvanga,” the story of a mother and son who leave Montreal to travel to the son’s late father’s community in Igloolik in the Canadian Arctic.