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Innovation, creativity and safety on display as art galleries, museums reopen amid pandemic –



The start of 2020 was exciting for the Immersive van Gogh team: they’d joined with the Paris creators of Atelier des Lumières for a Toronto version of their eye-popping digital art experience and, with an eye to a spring opening, began construction in the industrial space that formerly housed the Toronto Star’s printing presses. Early ticket sales were promising.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, producers Corey Ross and Svetlana Dvoretsky watched as one cultural organization after another closed its doors in mid-March and Toronto went into lockdown. As they began to consider whether they’d have to lay off the dozens of arts workers creating the show and what they would tell ticketholders, Ross had a Eureka moment.

Realizing that the loading dock ramp he’d been driving up every week to enter the cavernous exhibition space during construction could also be the way to bring in visitors, Ross and Dvoretsky quickly pivoted toward transforming their walk-in show into a safe, physically distanced drive-in experience — at least to start out.

Adapting the exhibition has required a leap of faith because the show was originally designed to be experienced on foot by artists currently unable to enter Canada to oversee the transition, Ross said.

“Amazingly, it works,” he declared during a media preview this week.

“It is all about the ability to pivot right now and to change, as the world around us is changing. And still be able to deliver an experience that is exciting for the public to encounter.”

WATCH | Take a peek inside Immersive van Gogh

Corey Ross, co-producer of Immersive van Gogh, on how the experiential digital art installation became a drive-in event amid the pandemic. 2:36

With regions across Canada gradually lifting coronavirus lockdowns, the arts-going experience is undergoing a pandemic-era revamp. Increased safety measures, innovative thinking and flexibility are paramount.  

Two visitors check out the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesday. The gallery opened to the public this week under a host of new protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (CBC)

‘People have really missed the art gallery’

Members, front-line healthcare workers and their families were among the first who returned when the Vancouver Art Gallery reopened this week.

Visitors arrived at a specific time window booked in advance and were welcomed by masked staffers, who scanned tickets from mobile devices. Galleries now include markers reminding of physical distancing, hand sanitizer stations and directional guidance through the facility. Benches and high-touch elements like audio players have been removed. QR codes posted by artworks allow guests to scan and learn more.   

A masked staffer at the Vancouver Art Gallery scans a visitor’s entry pass from his cellphone. Timed entry passes, booked in advance and displayed on mobile devices, are among the new protocols introduced. (CBC)

“People have really missed the art gallery. It’s a safe place where you can come and it’s some return to normalcy, even though nothing is normal,”  said Daina Augaitis, the gallery’s interim director.

To facilitate physical distancing, the gallery will limit the number of visitors. Staff are also planning ahead to offer seniors a dedicated entrance window on Monday mornings. 

All these new measures are much appreciated, according to those who visited during a free session the gallery extended to frontline workers and their families.

Visitors are seen at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesday. As a way to say thank you, the gallery offered frontline health workers and their families free entry two mornings this week. (CBC)

“I haven’t been downtown in four months, so this is literally the first place I’m visiting,” said Julian Augustine, who made the visit from Port Moody, B.C., with fellow nurse Tricia Arceo.

“It’s our day off today. It’s just nice to have some sense of normalcy in our lives. Visiting a museum is a nice way to start the day.”

Karen Choi, an occupational therapist who brought her daughter and was in search of a break in their routine, echoed that sentiment.

“Being in the middle of the pandemic and not being able to do anything, I welcomed the opportunity,” Choi said. “I love it. It reminds me about how I should come to the art gallery much more frequently.”

That’s exactly what Kevin Rice, director of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, is hoping for. “We’re really excited to invite people to visit the gallery if they haven’t been regular visitors,” he said. 

Kevin Rice, director of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, shows off an installation of a Sandi Hartling LED light artwork on display at the Grafton St. entrance. ‘I hope it’s an invitation into the gallery,’ he said. (CBC)

The Charlottetown gallery also reopened this week, as part of the cultural venue’s gradual opening of a number of its facilities. Visitors to the Prince Edward Island institution will see similar protocols similar to those at the Vancouver Art Gallery, such as controlled entrance and exits, new directional information, increased cleaning, as well as limits on visitor capacity.

‘Not opening up isn’t really an option’

“If [people have] gone to the grocery store or the drugstore, they’ve been out in public spaces, I think they will not feel like there’s anything unusual for them here,” Rice noted, saying that the staff’s aim was to follow heath guidelines while also creating a space where visitors feel safe, comfortable and not rushed.

“We’ve been able to do that fairly readily because we have big, beautiful spaces and lots of interesting art for people to see when they do visit.”

The Confederation Centre of the Arts opened its gallery on Tuesday, part of the gradual reopening of some of its facilities. (CBC)

Reopening safely and responsibly is imperative for the arts sector, said Confederation Centre CEO Steve Bellamy. 

“People need culture,” he said. “We need to learn how to operate within the risks involved, rather than not operate… Not opening up isn’t really an option.”

Despite these precautions however, many Canadians may be reticent to return. A recent study conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the National Arts Centre and Business for the Arts asked Canadians about returning to cultural events. Respondents fell into two camps: those hungry to immediately return and a larger, more hesitant group. 

Visitors arrive at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesday. (CBC)

“About a third of people indicated that as soon as the government allows, they’re going to be returning immediately to the [cultural] sector,” said Shannon Urie, associate director of marketing for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Respondents in Quebec expressed a greater intent to go back to museums and galleries right away.

“Another third [of total respondents] said that they’re going to wait about five months or until the vaccine is ready, to return. And then another third were really unsure.”

Many cultural organizations are using this very important time to innovate, to think about perhaps breaking patterns that are decades long– Shannon Urie, National Arts Centre

The report also discovered that during the pandemic, regular culture-goers have checked out digital or virtual activities — a livestreamed performance, for example — and that’s worth paying attention to, according to Urie.

“To us, [it] signals that there is demand for this. That looking forward to the future, there would be some interest in continuing on in that sort of realm,” she said.

“Many cultural organizations are using this very important time to innovate, to think about perhaps breaking patterns that are decades long… It’s been a tremendous period of learning for everyone.”

Beyond the myriad physical considerations for reopening — as well as planning for an expected second wave of infection to come — arts organizations have to drastically rethink how to operate and innovate in the longer term, according to National Gallery of Canada CEO Sasha Suda. 

“It’s not a race. We’re in it for the long run,” said Suda, who is currently prepping plans to reopen in July.

Arts organizations’ business models have become reliant on audiences,she said.

Suda foresees that art lovers will no longer be “gathered with 200 people in a single gallery” crowding in around one particular painting or sculpture.

“Those things, we simply can’t encourage in our exhibition design,” Suda said. “It’s going to make us be creative and resourceful about how we invite our audience, our community, to come experience art.”

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Thousands of dollars in Indigenous art missing after Bella Coola break-in – Coast Mountain News



The owner of Bella Coola Wild Craft and Gallery is hoping the public will keep an eye out for thousands of dollars in Indigenous art that went missing following a break-in to her business.

Kathleen Booth learned the arts and craft store, and gallery was a victim of crime Monday morning after a worker of the Cumbrian Inn who does a daily check of the shared space noticed the back door open and heard some noise.

She said he initially thought it might have been a bear although he had quickly realized that scenario made little sense when he had ended up chasing several potential suspects who had tried to make a get away from the building on foot.

“It’s very tied into what we seem to think that is an escalation of drugs that are coming into our valley, notably meth, Booth said, noting there were a couple of break-ins within the community prior including the boats at the wharf.

“We see behaviours of people changing.”

With the suspects having made their way through the rear door of the hotel and breaching a variety of corridors by breaking through doors, Booth estimates at least $14,000 in art by a variety of artists including a hand painted jacket of a grizzly by herself is missing.

There is also approximately $2,000 in damage.

Despite being left devastated by the event and the COVID-19 pandemic adding to the woes, Booth said things can be repaired and fixed.

“Because the drive of the business is people over profit, it will continue.”

Booth started the fairly small arts and craft store at her home based studio in 2012 as a means of providing residents affordable quality art supplies

It was just recently she held a soft-opening for the new location of the arts and craft store, as well as celebrate the revamp of the art gallery she had taken over management of.

“We have a lot of artists in the valley, and there’s a challenge in small communities like this with drugs and alcohol and the nothing to do factor,” she said. “That’s a big part of what I do through the art store is basically to make a lot of supplies accessible and at an affordable price so that we can provide an option for people to spend Friday night in a different way.”

Since opening, Booth said within the last month she has heard from many young women who tell her they are making the choice to bead over drink.

She recalled how she came from a poor background in Quebec that was challenged even more when she when chose to attend the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and would dumpster drive to salvage supplies she could use for her art due to unaffordable rent.

“For me it’s always been about empowering people no matter what step of life i’ve been through,” she said. “My mother taught me to share my gifts, share my knowledge and always try to build people up in that journey.”

Knowing that some are unable to complete the thought process leading up to their actions, Booth added she will not let the acts of one or a few individuals represent the whole of the community she has grown to love since calling home nine years ago.

“There’s many other people that are struggling with addictions that have great respect and in honor of those people we continue, and I’ll continue, to keep those people in the foreground,” she said. “It’s too easy to let one person destroy everything for everybody.”

Anyone with further information is asked to contact RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

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Quarantine self portraits provide personal, humourous reopening at Art 1274 Hollis –




While venues were closed due to COVID-19, many creative artists used the tools available to them to stay connected to their audiences.

Musicians shared their gifts with the world via live online concerts, comedians did standup from their living rooms and backyards and filmmakers posted shorts about their experiences on YouTube.

But for talented artisans who sculpt three-dimensional objects that have to be seen in the real world to truly be truly enjoyed and experienced, being creative during quarantine meant there would be a bit of hang time before they could display their work.

Now that doors are reopening and exhibits are reappearing, Halifax co-operative gallery Art 1274 Hollis asked its members to contribute self-portraits that reflect their experiences over the past four months. With 23 local artists and artisans working in everything from paint and pottery to folk art and hooked rugs, the co-op’s The Isolation Project — Self-Reflection contains a multitude of interpretations and each has a unique personal touch.

‘It’s all about the giggle’

Ceramics artist Naomi Walsh calls her baked and glazed clay still life Got a Job Needs Doing, which reflects her position as the co-op’s gallery manager — “I’m the one who buys the toilet paper and the hand sanitizer” — and her love of home renovation and gardening.

The piece is a collection of ceramic versions of items like a can of paint with brushes, a cordless drill and a pair of garden shears, that shows her skill as well as her sense of humour.

“I don’t do people, never mind myself,” laughs Walsh over creating a self-portrait with household objects.

“I love doing miniatures of real things. I’ve done harbours and fishing boats, using hairnets for scallop nets, and I just love that kind of stuff. So I had a lot of fun with this project, it made me giggle, and it’s all about the giggle.”

In a normal year Art 1274 Hollis would be having monthly openings starting on April 1 with featured artists and a party for anybody and everybody who wants to drop by and see new works and have a snack or two.

Upcycling welding artist Al Hattie poses with his quarantine self-portrait work at Art 1274 Hollis Gallery as part of The Isolation Project opening on Wednesday afternoon. The lively co-operative gallery offers both fine art and fine craft with ever-changing new work in paintings, jewellery, pottery, ceramic art, folk art, rug hooking and more. - Eric Wynne
Upcycling welding artist Al Hattie poses with his quarantine self-portrait work at Art 1274 Hollis Gallery as part of The Isolation Project opening on Wednesday afternoon. The lively co-operative gallery offers both fine art and fine craft with ever-changing new work in paintings, jewellery, pottery, ceramic art, folk art, rug hooking and more. – Eric Wynne

With Wednesday’s opening of The Isolation Project, the gallery near Hollis and Morris streets is currently open noon to 4 p.m. daily, with up to four viewers allowed in at any time and the wearing of masks and use of hand sanitizer strongly encouraged.

“We were closed for so long, and one of our members had the wonderful idea of reintroducing ourselves to a) the general public and b) our loyal followers by doing self-portraits,” says Walsh.

“Well, that’s all well and good if you paint, but there’s a lot of us who made 3D things, there are jewelry makers, there’s Al (Hattie) with his metalwork, there are potters … but then I realized, it doesn’t have to actually look like me, does it?

“So I put a spin on it by making it something that represents how I think of myself and how I identify myself. So a lot of us ran with that idea.”

Self portrait in spoons

Al Hattie’s version of himself shows a miniature version of the metalworking artisan at his workbench creating something new out of dining utensils, and the artist himself is represented by a few spoons with forks for hands, wrapped in cloth.

“I made a replica of my welder, and the little gas tank is a CO2 cartridge from my old BB gun, and the gauge is actually a meat thermometer,” says Hattie. “All my art is made from found or recycled objects, metal mostly now.”

He jokes that he started making art from found objects when his wife asked him to clean out the garage one day, and he’s been combing through thrift stores and antique shops for materials ever since.

He started selling items at local markets, and eventually graduated from making items out of old tires and lawn art out of large pieces of disused metal into assembling more detailed pieces with utensils and smaller ingredients. It was these items which caught Walsh’s eye, and led her to extend an invitation to Hattie to join Art 1274 Hollis.

“I feel pretty privileged to be part of it, because the talent that’s in there is amazing. Some of them have been doing it longer than I’ve been alive, they’re very experienced and quite well-known,” says Hattie, who hopes coming out of COVID-19 hibernation will inspire more people to visit local independent galleries, either to buy or just to browse.

“Art galleries like ours are free to visit, people keep forgetting that. You can go and view talent, and everybody’s welcome.”

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Organizers hope art tour will encourage people to visit downtown Sudbury –



A Sudbury art event is being reimagined this summer due to the pandemic and an organizer says she hopes the changes will bring more people downtown.

The Downtown Sudbury Art Crawl is usually a one-day event with food, wine and art displays in local businesses. Between 600 and 700 people usually go downtown to take part.

But due to the pandemic, organizers have had to make a few changes. One change is that the event is taking place over the next four weeks instead of one day.

Artist and organizer of the event Monique Legault says the artwork is on display in store windows that are lit up at night.

“The idea is we’re trying to get people to come out downtown on their own time and take a look at the outdoor gallery,” she said.

Legault says they first started organizing the event, the goal was to get 40 businesses and 40 artists on board. In the end, they got 40 businesses and 56 artists involved.

“They’ve outdone themselves,” she said.

“They’re giving us the best pieces they have. A lot of the art shows that were happening this year didn’t get to happen. So we’re getting to show off some of the best things our city has to offer right now.”

Monique Legault is an artist and organizer of the Downtown Sudbury Art Crawl. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

During previous years, people have been able to purchase the art onsite. This year, Legault says a website has been created for that.

“You can actually bid on the art that you see displayed every week,” she said. “Ten pieces per week are going up for auction for four weeks running.”

Legault says she hopes the event will help both artists and business owners.

The downtown Sudbury Art Crawl usually draws hundreds of people to businesses where artwork is on display, usually in a single day. It looks different this summer, but people will still have the chance to check out local art. The event has been stretched out over four weeks this time around. Monique Legault is the event organizer. She explained how this edition of the art crawl will work. 5:34

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