Art and community galleries



One of the great things about having artist friends is getting the chance to see their exhibitions, both for the art and the chance to explore a new gallery. Seeing work in a studio can’t compare to seeing everything beautifully mounted on pristine walls, with enough space to really appreciate the art. Last week, I went to see the work of my friend, Michelle Sirois-Silver, at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery. The show is called Love, Decay, Repair, and features her textile artwork, both her traditional hooked fabric work and some new explorations she has been making with distressed screenprinting on fabric. I think that the show displays an evolution in Michelle’s work, she is extremely skilled in the fabric hooking and her large scale hostas display that expertise, but I know she is also very excited about doing the new printed and stitched works and I have to admit they are my favourite pieces in the show.

I attended a talk that Michelle gave on her process, and she is extremely generous about sharing all kinds of information on how she does her work and where she gets her materials. She will be giving another talk this Saturday, and I hope to attend that as well. The show runs until October 13, 2012.

I had never been to the Maple Ridge Art Gallery before, and it was interesting to explore it. The gallery is located on a plaza that also connects with a large shopping mall, city hall, the library and a sports centre.  I found this to be a contrast to many community galleries, which are free-standing, destination buildings. I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that many more people drop into the gallery as a result.  Certainly, Michelle’s talk was very well attended.

Recently, Bob Rennie stirred up some controversy in Vancouver when he suggested that instead of one new landmark gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) should open ten small galleries in different sites throughout the city.

The idea is an interesting one to consider. Is there a way to work art galleries more seamlessly into our lives? Would we feel more ownership of galleries within our community? And what about the existing community galleries, because every city in the Greater Vancouver area already has its own gallery? Some community galleries, like The Reach in Abbotsford, already seem to have a relationship with the VAG and display their work. Others have formed their own mandates, like Surrey Art Gallery, which features more video work. Still others have retrospectives of important artists who are not favoured by the VAG; I have seen fantastic shows of Renee Van Helm, Vicki Marshall and Bill Burns at community galleries. While the VAG displays artists who have already been crowned by the art world, Vancouver has few venues for emerging or mid-career artists. The now disappeared Artropolis show was a great way for new local artists to be discovered, but nothing similar has taken its place.

The Maple Ridge Art Gallery set up for Michelle's demo


Shows like Love, Decay, Repair are important for the artist in many ways. As the audience, I enjoy seeing Michelle’s work displayed in the proper setting, and it gives others an introduction to her talents. But for the artist, a solo show like this is validating in many ways: the chance to work with a professional curator, a deadline to complete a large body of work, a milestone for the CV.  In addition, I believe there’s a wonderful personal satisfaction in looking at your work filling a huge gallery space. “I made all that,” you think, and it feels great.