At first glance, it may not appear like the Audain Art Museum and village restaurant Alta Bistro have much in common. But with a shared interest in showcasing the best that B.C has to offer, their mandates overlap more than you might think.
“I always thought there was some type of synergy with the Audain and some type of opportunity to do something really unique there,” explained Eric Griffith, owner and wine director for Alta Bistro.
“The synergy, I think, is on a qualitative level, too. The art experience at the Audain is a very high-level, high-quality experience, so we wanted to be able to transfer that quality when you come downstairs.”
That crossover between contemporary and traditional B.C. art and top-shelf ingredients sourced from Whistler’s backyard will be on full display through a new weekly dinner series that will begin with a guided tour of either the museum’s permanent or temporary exhibit and end with a physically distanced, multi-course dinner underneath the Audain’s distinct, 56,000-square-foot building designed by Patkau Architects.
Held every Friday evening until Sept. 4, each week will feature a new menu designed with seasonal ingredients at top of mind.
“[The dinners] will be showcasing what we’re getting in the moment as far as ingredients,” said Griffith. “I never thought about it, but it will be [Audain’s photography exhibit] The Extended Moment paired with the ingredients of the moment, so there is a tie-in there.”
With the pandemic in full swing, Audain director and chief curator Curtis Collins said the museum has been “reimagining itself and how we can offer different kinds of experiences.
“It gives us an opportunity to begin to experiment with different ways of bringing visitors to the museum in addition to our public hours,” he added, noting that in the fall, the museum will begin offering smaller, more intimate experiences that will align well with the new COVID-19 landscape. “It underlines the fact that the museum is a very safe environment.”
Like other local businesses so reliant on tourism, both the Audain and Alta Bistro have had to rethink how they operate during the pandemic. Two years ago, Griffith finished renovating a 1967 vintage Airstream Bambi trailer that was converted into a full-service kitchen (and required some 200 hours of polishing!) that now allows the contemporary French bistro to take its award-winning cuisine on the road. And while most of the catering events on their calendar have been postponed until next year, the travel trailer has allowed the restaurant to offer a unique concept like the new dinner series without much of a hassle.
The Audain, meanwhile, has put a renewed focus on its digital programming, and its Tuesday Night Talks (TNT) series—which grants viewers access to the museum’s collection and an artist’s home or studio, with a focus on a new piece every week—has proved an unexpected success.
“What we’re learning is that people really enjoy this kind of tight focus on specific works so that they can get a deeper understanding of some of the highlights in the collection,” Collins said. “I say that because TNT, as we call it, has been really well received from a general public perspective.”
As it settles into its fifth year of operation, the Audain has struck a fine balance between catering to the whims of the Vancouver art scene and the more sport-oriented Whistler market. Ultimately, Collins wants to make the museum as accessible as possible and stoke the inner art critic in everyone who walks through its doors.
“I’m a very strong believer that everybody has very good visual skills, particularly in the information environment that we’re now in,” he noted. “It’s just a question of giving people the confidence to use those skills and show them how to arrive at a bit of a deeper read on art. It’s all about letting people use the skills they have and not putting up any barriers to that and kind of democratizing the art experience.”
Tickets to the Alta + Audain: Fine Dining Art Experience are $160 per person, and include the gallery tour, taxes, gratuities and service charges. Call the restaurant at 604-932-2582 or visit altabistro.com/audain to reserve your seat.