Pop-Up Studio a first for Whistler artists 

Twelve painters, sculptors and weavers will take over space at the Westin starting June 1; studio open to the public and will be an ArtWalk venue

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - A space to paint Whistler artist Bea Gonzalez, whose work is pictured, is looking forward to having a dedicated space to work at in mix with other artists.
  • Photo submitted
  • A space to paint Whistler artist Bea Gonzalez, whose work is pictured, is looking forward to having a dedicated space to work at in mix with other artists.

A studio may be a space to create, but it can also mean so much more to an artist.

When putting together Whistler's new Pop-Up Studio, community cultural officer Anne Popma asked the resort's painters, sculptors and craftspeople what they needed.

One wanted shared space to bounce ideas around and to help her focus on her painting away from distractions; others hardly had enough space at home to work. All wanted a vibrant workspace in the heart of the busy village.

"We surveyed artists and asked them what could be done for them to make a living in Whistler, and what we could do to grow the cultural sector," Popma says.

"One of the main comments we heard was that they needed affordable studio space, preferably in the village. That's where over 2 million people a year walk by."

Popma, with the support of the Whistler Arts Council and the Cressey Development Group, was able to help.

The resulting 670-sq.-m studio opens on Monday, June 1, in an empty retail space at the Westin Resort.

Twelve artists are signed up, having submitted their work to a selection jury, including oil painter Bea Gonzalez; interdisciplinary artist Laurel Terlesky; painter Roberta Horn; weaver Freda Cook; landscape painter Meg O'Hara; portraitist and nature painter Sarah Gold; figurative painter Veronique Hamel; and landscape painter Andy Anissimoff.

Gonzalez, who has a young family and runs a tax business, says art can be a very solitary pursuit and the Pop-Up Gallery is a welcome addition.

"I have a room in my house where I can paint, but because of all the other things going on I never quite make it there," she says.

"The studio was something we needed, for sure. We don't have abandoned warehouses that we could convert, so artists pull out their supplies in the living room and then they have to put it all away. It's a deterrent... so having a purpose-built place makes it more like a job. You are going there to make art, you're not doing laundry."

Squamish-based Terlesky, who was recently an artist-in-residence at Quest University Canada, had recently given up her own studio after five years.

"It seems like a great opportunity for me. I'm just working at home right now, and with this I can be in a different community and interfacing with people while I'm working as well... it freshens things up and gets me to a different place with different people around," she says.

"My work has changed recently and I didn't need a permanent spot for a while. I do residencies in different places, and I might be working on something that won't require a permanent studio space. I'm trying to be more mobile instead of being rooted in one place."

Terlesky will be carrying out research and producing drawings and small sculptures. Her work can vary from drawings to larger installation pieces.

"Having a space where I can lay out materials for the next little bit is perfect. The Pop-Up Studio seems to make sense," she says.

Popma says the Pop-Up Studio location is a former gift shop adjacent to the Adele Campbell Gallery and across from the Suzanne Johnston Studio Gallery. The space had been vacant for two years.

"There is the potential of creating a little mini-neighbourhood of cultural activity," she says, noting they had to be sensitive to commercial interests and show they weren't setting up permanent competition.

"It's a studio, not a gallery. It will be a venue for ArtWalk so sales will be permitted as they are at any other ArtWalk venue. Other than this period (ArtWalk 2015 takes place throughout Whistler from June 27 to Aug. 31), it will be a studio."

Popma is thrilled by the potential.

"This is a place where people can put work together. It will be open to the public about six hours a day. Artists will have access outside the public hours, and will share the supervision of the space, meeting and greeting and talking about the project," she explains.

"Cultural development is complex. It is not just putting an event on somewhere in isolation, especially in Whistler. Culture is now on the agenda of many of the resort partners and community groups. Mobilizing that energy and getting it to move forward takes energy and time; people are receptive and interested but getting some consensus on how to move forward is the challenging part for my office."

The four-month pilot project is a month-by-month arrangement with Cressey for use of the space and is targeted at emerging artists, in particular.

"It's pretty expensive to rent studio space in Whistler, even in Function Junction. Some people have studios in their homes and that's great but then we looked at some models of how these shared studio spaces work and many are in old industrial buildings," says Popma.

"We don't have a lot of those in Whistler, but what we do have is vacant retail space."

"Each artist can set up their space in a way that works for them," she says.

Because some artists are sharing spaces, there is still room available for anyone who wants to be a part of the studio, Popma says.

"We will accept submissions throughout the length of the project. There's a minimum one-month lease arrangement. The artists pay a nominal membership fee to participate, to cover insurance and cleaning," she says.

Popma has been Whistler's community cultural officer for just over a year. She says she spent the first few months in the job determining the needs of the community.

"We needed to know where the appetite was for collaborating to make some of these things happen, and what the politics of the landscape, where we can move forward with some of these initiatives in the Community Cultural Plan," she says.

This included looking at how proposals like the Cultural Pathways plan to connect arts and culture centres in Whistler via a series of walks.

"Cultural Pathways was built on broad community engagement with Tourism Whistler, the chamber (of commerce), the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre and everybody was involved. That was great but there's a longer-term planning horizon there," Popma says.

"In comparison, the Pop-Up Studio is something we could do very quickly.We found some vacant space, we got an agreement with the landlord, we did a quick survey of artists. It was an easy way to move forward.

"It has been a year since I took the job on, but it was not as complex as some of these other projects might be. Changing the bylaws for home-based studios; that's a complex process."



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