From left: Mike Davies, Kaira Fenix, Sara Lopez Assu, Jenelle Pasiechnik, Thom Knutson and Sam Patterson (not pictured) are ready to blow the doors of the Campbell River Art Gallery wide open and re-welcome the community to take part in some important conversations. Photo courtesy Campbell River Art Gallery

From left: Mike Davies, Kaira Fenix, Sara Lopez Assu, Jenelle Pasiechnik, Thom Knutson and Sam Patterson (not pictured) are ready to blow the doors of the Campbell River Art Gallery wide open and re-welcome the community to take part in some important conversations. Photo courtesy Campbell River Art Gallery

Art Gallery ready for a post-COVID world full of important conversations

The folks down at the Campbell River Art Gallery are back at it.

Well, they’ve technically never stopped, according to executive director Sara Lopez Assu, but now that the province is into Step 3 of its restart plan, they’re gearing up for a full-blown revival of all things art and welcoming people to the downtown core.

“I think that COVID sort of exacerbated people’s perception of downtown: that stores and businesses were closed and downtown had become some sort of void space,” Assu says. “But we’ve been here this whole time working away and we know our neighbours have their businesses and activities going and there’s lots of great stuff happening. Now that we can, we’re excited to be able to open our doors even more, be able to host more in-person events and help bring back some life and excitement to downtown.”

In order to blow the doors wide open for people to come streaming back to the gallery, however, Assu needed to get her staffing situation fleshed out.

“We received some funding through the BC Arts Council and Heritage Canada to bring some amazing students on full-time for the summer to get activating more partnerships and getting out in the community doing some great work,” Assu says. “We’ve also have new faces on our permanent staff, including our new outreach and education programmer, Mike Davies, who has been a staple in the community for some time and will bring a wealth of connections and his intimate knowledge of the community to helping bring people into the great conversations that we’re having here.”

Some of those partnerships involve workshops and activities with the Community Action Team, Volunteer Campbell River, the Immigrant Welcome Centre, the Welcoming Communities Coalition, various youth organizations, the Campbell River Arts Council, and many others.

“Having a full, fresh team has really allowed us to activate and make some really solid partners that we’re super stoked about,” Assu says.

There’s a fresh outlook at the board level, as well, with both Cory Cliffe and Corrine Hunt joining the board of directors at the recent annual general meeting.

“Corrine will help us continue to make connections in the North Island, which is an area which we see as an area of growth and opportunity,” Assu says, “and Cory has been an incredible partner in a sort of ad-hoc capacity, so to now have him on the board and help inform and solidify the strategic direction of decolonizing the organization is really a great thing for us.”

The gallery’s current exhibition, “Autumn Tigers,” wraps up this coming weekend with a two-day extravaganza of activities, before the crew will get to resetting the gallery space for the next show.

“Our summer programming is taking a similar approach that we have been taking with a lot of the exhibitions over the past couple of years – and certainly since we’ve outlined decolonizing practices as a strategic direction for the art gallery – in that it’s both a celebration of community while also being an opportunity to reflect critically about our colonial history as a public art gallery,” Assu says.

The exhibition, running through August and September, will be called “Representation,” and showcases the gallery’s permanent collection, which is usually stored safely away in the Museum at Campbell River’s archives.

“We wanted to both celebrate our permanent collection but also take a moment to identify gaps,” Assu says. “What stories are going untold? If our permanent collection was turned into a time capsule and someone in 1,000 years opened it, what story does it tell? It’s our responsibility to ensure that our permanent collection tells a story that is complete and offers complex and diverse points of views from people with a range of lived experiences.

“This exhibition is a chance to give ourselves a report card to see if our permanent collection is representative of the community we live in,” she continues, “while also giving us a chance to show off the wonderful collection we do have – which we have not had many opportunities to do – and celebrate the artists that are a part of it.”

Find out more about what the gallery is getting up to by following them on Facebook (@campbellriverartrgallery) and Instagram (@cr_artgallery), or simply by dropping in. Their current hours are available on their website, www.crartgallery.ca

RELATED: Campbell River Art Gallery unleashes Karen Tam’s Autumn Tigers

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