Art for art’s sake?
Long-time Whistler resident and artist talks about the important of promoting local artists
By Paul Andrew
For the first time since Whistler became a municipality some 24 years ago, this weekend’s Whistler Arts Experience will bring all municipal arts groups together in a celebration of local art.
And whether the effort should have been made before now may not be as important a question as why there is a need to promote local art. Is the craft of applying paint to canvass, hands to clay, or script to stage a form of entertainment being left behind in the race to keep up with the high-tech graphics and computer generated video images? Do we have the talent in the valley worth promoting?
In Whistler’s case it seems an effort needs to take place because there are few venues to see local art displayed, meet the artists and encourage others to pursue a craft as a hobby or perhaps a profession. But talk to someone such as long-time Whistlerite and artist Isobel MacLaurin about the need to promote local art and she makes no bones about it.
"If you are an artists then you’re just dying inside to show your art to people," she said. "In 1971 I did 24 murals for Whistler Mountain and it is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done."
As far as artists being highly exposed in the Whistler Valley MacLaurin might be the exception to the rule. The list of local and international accomplishments on her resume is impressive. With husband Don, who is involved with numerous volunteer and municipal groups, the MacLaurins set up shop permanently in Whistler some 12 years ago. But they have been coming to Whistler since 1961, which is about the time they began building a cottage above Alpha Lake. It now houses the MacLaurins’ studio, where Isobel will conduct a workshop on the fundamental techniques of pencil drawing this weekend. It is one of eight workshops scheduled for the Whistler Arts Experience.
So add up the formal exhibitions in Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand, the informal watercolour workshops in the Cook Islands, memberships on the Whistler Arts Council, Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, and interests in almost everything Whistler has to offer in the great outdoors, and who better to talk to about the local arts scene?
"Perhaps soon we’ll have a cultural venue for us — artists — such as Vail and Aspen. You know we visited Vail this season and they just opened a huge gallery. But there’s money there and the people who might be able to stake a million dollars toward a venue here for local artists don’t live in the valley. But I must say, I’m very proud of our Public Arts Committee."
The four-year quest to entrench a local group of knowledgeable arts and crafts people in the municipal decision-making process was formalized in May when the Public Arts Committee’s policy to encourage art in public places was passed by Whistler council.
This weekend’s initiative by the Whistler Resort Association and the Pubic Arts Committee to celebrate local art in a variety of ways is the first high-profile event to come out of what was originally called the Public Arts Program. That contrasts with the fact there have been many efforts over the years to "import" artists and art to Whistler. So what should we be doing: importing art or promoting local art? MacLaurin sees a need for both.
"The music in Whistler is there because the venues are there," she says about Whistler musicians having a place to play, and the steady stream of North American musical groups playing the clubs and pubs.
"But if we didn’t have Music in the Mountains, we would have had to go to the city for that. Some of the galleries in town do a good job of promoting local art, but we need a building for all of us. The idea of the Whistler Arts Experience... all of us under a tent and talking and displaying our art is just wonderful. But it always takes someone to start it up. Then we people will carry it on.
"But it takes a bright young mind to start it up."
Does that mean we should all go out and invest in local art, just for the sake of it?
"I don’t ever talk about it as investing in art. I want someone to buy it because they like it. Not because they want to invest in it." said MacLaurin. "Most of the people I know invest in art because they really want to; because they like it."
MacLaurin says some of the best places to display art might sound a little strange.
"I once saw an Emily Carr painting in a bathroom. I think that’s a marvellous place for a painting. You can really concentrate on it in there. I certainly don’t find it offensive."