Audain Art Museum stays connected during pandemic 

From flashlight tours to a new Zoom artist talk series, the Whistler institution is keeping you connected to art

click to enlarge Beau Dick’s piece Yagis Mask was recently featured in the Audain Art Museum’s Flashlight Security Tour on Instagram. - Photo by Curtis Collins
  • Beau Dick’s piece Yagis Mask was recently featured in the Audain Art Museum’s Flashlight Security Tour on Instagram. Photo by Curtis Collins

After the Audain Art Museum closed to the public on March 16, its directors, like those of every other institution and business in the resort, had to figure out how to navigate a new reality.

For Curtis Collins, director and chief curator at the museum, part of his new pandemic duties included working with Michael Audain, whose art collection the museum houses, to ensure it would remain safe.

"At one point in our conversation I said, 'OK Michael, I will personally inspect the collection on a daily basis,'" Collins says. "As a result of that, later that day, I went downstairs with my flashlight and started walking round the permanent collection."

That's when he noticed the compelling ring-of-light effect it created around the art.

"I thought, 'This is a really nice visual,'" he recalls. "I started taking pictures on my phone and fired them off to Justine [Nichol, marketing and communications manager]. She said, 'These are fantastic Curtis!'"

And with that, the pair hatched a plan for the Flashlight Security Tour. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday they post an image from the permanent collection, encased by a ring of light, and add some information about it, to the museum's Instagram page.

"It's a good way for us to have a presence," Collins says. "They've been super popular."

With its doors shut and its biggest fundraiser—Illuminate Gala & Auction—cancelled, the museum has had to make other adjustments as well. For one, it will move from three special exhibits a year down to two.

"Unlike a lot of museums and galleries, we only receive a very small portion of our funding through government sources," Collins says. "So we've definitely had to make some reductions in staff and the number of exhibitions moving forward too. We'll be able to tune our exhibition schedule a little more closely to the Whistler year. We'll have one major winter show and one major summer show."

(The current exhibition, The Extended Moment: Fifty Years of Collecting Photographs, has been extended to run through the fall.)

But, in the meantime, the museum has come up with a new series that they can host remotely.

Last Tuesday, April 21, they launched a Zoom talk with Ann Thomas, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Canada, as part of the Capture Photography Festival.

"In the lead up to that I thought, 'Hmm, there's something to this,'" Collins says.

That resulted in the forthcoming Tuesday Night Talks. Collins lined up three artists who have pieces in the museum's permanent collection and guests will be able to log onto Zoom to sit in on the conversation. Up first on May 5 is Vancouver photoconceptualist Ian Wallace; on May 12 is multimedia artist Paul Wong; and on May 19 will be Xwalacktun, whose aluminum, laser-cut piece stands at the entrance to the museum.

The talks will start at 8 p.m. and run for about 45 minutes.

"This may be something we continue past the time we reopen," Collins says. "What it allows us to get is this excellent record of artists discussing very specific works in the collection."

One other change that could have a lasting impact on the museum, and the Whistler arts community as a whole: more frequent communication and cooperation between the institutions involved in the cultural connector, including the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, the Whistler Public Library, the Whistler Museum, and Arts Whistler.

"I think there will be some good things that come out of the cultural connector, in the sense that I believe as the resort ramps up, cultural tourism will be important," Collins says. "There's an opportunity for those institutions to work more closely together and offer a really much thicker, more cohesive cultural package, and wherever we can help each other out, that will happen."

To register for the Zoom artist talk, stay tuned to the museum's Instagram (@audainartmuseum) or audainartmuseum.com.

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