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Tuesday Night Talks create unexpected silver lining

Audain Art Museum has quietly grown viewership to its latest pandemic offering 
Audain Art Museum TNT
The Audain Art Museum team behind-the-scenes of their popular Tuesday Night Talks series.

Curtis Collins was cross-country skiing at Lost Lake recently when he pulled out his pass to show the woman working in the booth.

Her reaction surprised him. 

“Who’s on Tuesday Night Talks tonight?” she asked Collins.

The weekly chat with artists over Zoom, which Collins, director and chief curator of the Audain Art Museum, hosts has boosted the museum’s profile during a challenging time when visitation numbers have taken a hit. (Justine Nichol serves as director and producer and Nadin Hassan is the quality control coordinator.) 

“We’re getting now 400 viewers every Tuesday,” he says. “That’s our new average. A couple episodes this season have been over 500.”

Like the worker at Lost Lake, Collins ran into Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton at the grocery store and he also inquired about the following week’s lineup. 

“It’s been a good thing locally, but then we also get emails after every episode from Victoria and Toronto and Seattle,” Collins says. “Good, positive feedback. It’s been a real boon for us and somewhat unexpected.”

It all started late last spring after the Audain team came up with the idea for its “flashlight tour.” As part of that project, Collins toured around the collection at night with this flashlight, shot photos of particular pieces, and posted them on Instagram, along with a description of the piece.

At the same time, he found himself having to cancel all of his typical visits to artists’ studios as a safety precaution. 

“I thought, ‘There’s something here between me lurking in the museum at night with a flashlight and the studio visits,’” he says. “How can I put these together?”

In June 2020, the museum launched Season 1, Episode 1 of its very first Tuesday Night Talks Zoom session featuring Sasha Suda and Kitty Scott from the National Gallery of Canada. 

From the beginning, Collins’ goal was to keep the tone light and conversational and the aesthetic homespun and DIY in an effort to make it accessible to as many viewers as possible, but also to make the artists feel comfortable. 

“Literally, we do it with two flashlights taped to stands, pointed at me,” Collins says. “We wanted it to remain somewhat unvarnished. It speaks to the accessibility of it and people enjoy that. It’s a reality TV feel to it, but without the fakeness of reality TV.”

The interviews, stories, and impromptu moments from the featured artists have continued to make the series special as it launched its second season (with a one-off special edition featuring Rebecca Bellmore, whose exhibit, Reservoir, had its opening and performance piece cancelled due to tightened COVID-19 restrictions) in January. 

There was Paul Wong, whose neon alphabet piece, called “No Thing Is Forever,” hangs in the Audain’s lobby, explaining how it was inspired by his mother’s Chinese-to-English handbook; Dempsey Bob who offered a carving demonstration in his living room, prompting his wife, in the background, to implore him not to “get wood chips on the carpet”; and East Vancouver painter Attila Richard Lukacs pulling out and lighting a cigarette mid-talk.

“I thought, ‘That’s great. That’s awesome.’ He’s feeling comfortable. He’s in his studio,” Collins says with a laugh.

Kept to a short-and-sweet 45 to 50 minutes, the sessions allow the artists to talk about their work in the museum’s collection, but also answer questions from the audience and share what they’re currently working on. 

“It’s the most effective thing we’ve done [during the pandemic],” Collins says. “Not to suggest we’re diminishing the in-person experience, but the reality is this virtual experience is keeping our profile out there and raising our profile. When you can’t travel to Whistler, in theory, we’re still getting out, accessing a very broad audience.” 

The team tweaked things along the way when Season 2 kicked off—including adding pre-talk “commercials” featuring an item from the gift shop and a sponsorship from HSBC, which has led to a handful of special, private “collectors conversations” in exchange. 

Plans are potentially underway for a third season, perhaps in the fall, but viewers can catch two more TNT episodes this season, including Adad Hannah on Feb. 23 and Dana Claxton on March 2. 

(All of the past talks are available for viewing at audainartmuseum.com/tnt).

While all signs pointed to a successful initiative, Collins was still pleased to hear from museum founder Michael Audain. 

“I get a one-sentence email from him on occasion—usually the subject line,” he says. “This one said, ‘Congratulations, Curtis. Atilla was fascinating.’ We’re continuing to fulfill that vision he had for this place—make the work very accessible and celebrate the art of B.C. We take that very seriously.”

TNT is free, but requires pre-registration, which you can find on the museum’s website.