Arts Whistler's Pop-Up Studio seeks new home 

After a successful year with 31 artists using Westin space, an exhibition of work opens June 16

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Space to create Shelagh Thiessen of Arts Whistler in the Pop-Up Studio at The Westin. Arts Whistler is looking for a new home for the studio.
  • Photo by Cathryn Atkinson
  • Space to create Shelagh Thiessen of Arts Whistler in the Pop-Up Studio at The Westin. Arts Whistler is looking for a new home for the studio.

Arts Whistler (AW) is looking for a new home for its very successful Pop-Up Studio program.

Housed in an empty 2,200 sq. ft. retail store at The Westin Resort for the past year, the studio is now moving out after the property's owner, Cressey Development Group, found a tenant for the space, starting July 1.

The Pop-Up Studio provided cheap, communal workspace for 31 artists over the year, including painters, weavers and clothing designers.

Twelve are currently using it.

"Unfortunately, we're moving, but maybe there are retail owners in Whistler who are interested in the Pop-Up Studio and wanting to learn more," says program manager Shelagh Thiessen.

"We don't have anywhere to go yet."

Cressey had offered the space, which had been sitting empty at the Westin, as a quid pro quo agreement. As a non-profit, Arts Whistler paid for the space in value as a gift in kind.

"They've been really pleased with us being there," Thiessen says.

"We've tried to be great tenants. We've been focusing on painting and making art. Cressey has been amazing, it was an amazing opportunity."

Thiessen says their wish list for a new home for the Pop-Up Studio is straightforward.

"A retail space in the village would be ideal, or Creekside. Those locations are great because they are central, with great access from a transit perspective, for artists who don't have vehicles," she says.

"There might be vacant store fronts that (owners) are looking to utilize in different ways. The spaces will lend themselves to the type of mediums that artists are working with — a place in Function Junction might lend itself to something that is light industrial, such as woodworking."

Good or natural lighting is important, she added, and space for up to 12 artists — they are happy to consider more than one retail unit.

"The reality in Whistler is that there are a lot of artists looking for space to work. Often they don't have the space to work from home," Thiessen says.

"We're really creative in using what we're given. If someone came to us we'd try to make it work."

The creation of the Pop-Up Studio in June 2015 came from a Whistler Arts Council survey of its members' needs.

Artists pay a small rental fee per month to use the space and have constant access.

At the time, community cultural officer Anne Popma said they had asked artists what could be done to help them make a living — and was told that the need for workspace in the village, where two million visitors visit each year, was important.

A year on and separate from the need to find a new location, AW is taking the next step in the evolution of the studio program, having an exhibition of artists who used the space over the year.

One of them, Painter Roberta Horn loves her corner at the studio. She has used the space to paint acrylics since it opened in June of last year.

"It is fabulous. You've got a wonderful space and most of the time you're in here quietly working. There's lots of interest from people in the hotel, they drop in and peruse through," Horn says.

"It's an activity in the mall that they like to see."

But it isn't a place for sales, she explains. The studio is a place to work alongside other artists. As a self-taught artist she has used it to develop her craft.

"Having somewhere to come and paint and play is a big deal," Horn says.

"I'm experimental and I like to put a canvas in front of me and start to do things. Sometimes you come with an idea."She points to an abstract she is working on of muted colours and off-whites.

"I was walking the dog in the morning and that inspired something," she says.

"Other things come from a workshop... Yesterday, I played all day.

She laughs.

"It's a heavenly feeling to walk through the village and come here to the Westin to my little space. It's like, 'Oh my god!'"

The social side has also been a plus, whether conversations with the other artists are happening or not.

"It's a wonderful opportunity, thanks to Arts Whistler," Horn says.

Horn hopes to contribute a piece to the exhibition, which will run from June 16 to Aug. 16, in The Gallery at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Along with Horn are Kristi Poole-Adler, Alanna Sulz, Claire Gaulin-Brown, Heidi Denessen, Carol Roberts, Wendy Hargreaves, Monika Rosen, Amanda Shatzko, Toby Jaxon, Andy Anissimoff, Kylie Millar and Phillipa Campbell.

Thiessen said the Pop-Up Studio has been an important part of AW's community programming policy.

"We've pretty much been full since January this year, we've only had one or two turn over. It's pretty amazing," she says.

"It's the first of its kind. We have a waiting list of four people right now."

Popma says that as community cultural officer she has been able to observe the impact of the studio on the artistic community.

"I think the next two years is really going to be looking at finding other spaces for artists to work in, hopefully some public spaces," she says.

"It will be a two-year cycle before we work it through the municipality and get the policies in place. But there are a few municipal locations we would love to see used for artist spaces. There are wonderful examples of this in Vancouver and other cities.

"With the Pop-Up Gallery we wanted to test the demand and we've proved there is a demand."


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