Victoria, Meet your Galleries: A Call to Action

I am continually astounded at the number of people who have not visited more than one gallery in the Greater Victoria region. This, when you think about it, is statistically disheartening because there are fifty plus galleries in the CRD alone, and over 370,000 residents in the same area.

When Victorians are making plans with each other, the same basic ideas are tossed around: food, movies, clubs and concerts (the music scene seems to be thriving at least). Rarely does one friend say to another “Let’s go to a gallery!” But they should – because isn’t art a form of entertainment too? Why are Victorians (and Canadians in general) not considering art galleries as a way to spend their time?

Perhaps the biggest factor in the lack of footsteps inside arts institutions is fear. Potential visitors (that’s everyone) often feel intimidated by art galleries. They might love to look at art, but they worry that they won’t understand it, that they’ll feel pressured to buy it, and many worry that they might break something. This is a witness account – I have literally seen people lean into a gallery window, cup their hands around their eyes and peer inside. This behavior speaks volumes about how far a person will go to avoid actually moving into the gallery space.

Efren Quiroz, creator of the Victoria online art bulletin “Exhibit-V,” believes the issue stems from childhood. “I think the reason people do not consider art galleries as “something to do” is because in North America children are not exposed to art from a young age. In Europe for example, children are often encouraged to experience art. In Canada, when it comes to budget cuts in schools, arts programs are always the first to go.” And so it becomes a vicious cycle. Young children without artistic influences grow up and have trouble understanding why art is an important part of education, and of life.

American author Willa Cather wrote ,“Art imprisons for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself - life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” Art is the most beautiful interpretation of all that we are living, and all that we are surrounded by. And what galleries do, by sharing it with us, is provide a platform for inspiration, and a new way of looking at the world. We walk away from art (or with art!) feeling more inspired and with a renewed sense of energy and creativity.

Each day we follow the same paths. We tread the same streets and frequent the same establishments. For the most part, we see the same sights, the same people and do the same things again the very next day. In his TEDTalk discussion on arts festivals, renowned theatre producer David Binder says “Artists are explorers – and who better to show us the city anew? Artists can take us to a far flung part of the city that we haven’t explored, or they can take us into that building that we pass every day and never went into.” Psychogeography is a relatively new approach to our world which emphasizes a playful sort of ‘drifting’ around urban environments. Let us marry for a moment, this idea with visual arts. That is to say, Victoria, meet your galleries!

Meet Gallery 1580 (1580 Cook Street) and Xchanges (6E-2333 Government Street), collective artist run spaces in which floor plans are broken into individual studios, with rooms reserved for showcasing the creative output.

Visit Wolf/Sheep Arthouse (1215 B Government Street) and discover that beyond the tattoo parlour is a unique display of contemporary artwork by emerging artists with a distinct ‘street art’ flavour.

Wander down Fort Street and find an array of art spaces including The Makehouse ( 833 ½ Fort Street), Polychrome Fine Art (977 Fort Street), The ApARTment Gallery (1016 Fort Street) and G++ Interactive Media Gallery (1119 Fort Street). Didn’t you hear? Mosaic Village is the new Antique Row.

Want something a little bit more serene? Show your UVic pride by popping into The Legacy Gallery (630 Yates), revel in West Coast landscapes at Madrona Gallery (606 View Street), or celebrate the opening of the new Bateman Centre (470 Belleville Street).

And many more wonderful arts institutions abound within Victoria.

Here’s a secret: when galleries are full of people, suddenly no one feels uncomfortable. The atmosphere is celebratory, and often jovial. And so, I invite you to celebrate art in Victoria. On August 23rd and 24th 2013, the Integrate Art Society is hosting the 7th Annual Integrate Arts Festival. On August 23rd 23 arts locations in Victoria will be open for your enjoyment from 7:30-10:30 pm. An opening party and independent artist exhibition will kick off the event at 6:00 pm in Market Square, and surprise performances through-out the city streets will surprise you as you move from space to space. On August 24th, The Ministry of Casual Living, the CACGV and the GVPL have banded together to present “Play on Words”, a multi-faceted book fair in the Central library courtyard.

So join me, in a re-discovery of the arts and culture in this great city of ours.

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