Artistic Displays and Olympic Endeavours: BC’s Cultural Scene Captivates

Posted Thursday, October 08, 2015

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, Kootenay Rockies, Northern British Columbia, Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Coast & Mountains, Kamloops, Richmond, Victoria, Whistler, Aboriginal, Culture & Entertainment

There’s little wonder why British Columbia’s museums and galleries captivate the collective imagination: these draws celebrate traditions and recall what once was; they challenge complacency and engage the curious mind. And for the cultural explorer? Well, they’re bound to learn something new and discover sites big and small, in every corner of the province.  


Whistler’s Audain Art Museum, for example, is set to make its mark on the mountain town’s cultural scene in early 2016. The 5,203-square-metre (56,000-square-foot) space, designed by Patkau Architects, is the vision of Vancouver home builder Michael Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa. Selected works have been handpicked from the couple’s extensive personal collection, anchored by centuries-old pieces — including one of the world’s most important collections of Northwest Coast masks — together with creations by local photo-conceptualists who define the modern landscape. Additional featured artwork will include more than two dozen Emily Carr pieces, one of the largest collections of paintings from revered coastal artist E.J. Hughes, significant post-war modernist pieces from Jack Shadbolt and Gordon Smith, and contemporary offerings from Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and others. Ever-changing temporary exhibits will complement Audain’s powerhouse display, showcasing works by some of British Columbia’s best, alongside other notable Canadians and artists from around the world.


The Richmond Olympic Experience (ROX), North America’s fi­rst and only official member of the Olympic Museums Network, is also poised to quicken the pulse this winter, south of Vancouver. At this new “Super, Hero” showcase, fans of heart-thumping action can channel their inner Olympian via state-of-the-art sport simulators, testing their skill at both winter and summer disciplines including ski jumping, sit-skiing, bobsleigh, whitewater kayaking, and vertical and long jumps. Set at the Richmond Olympic Oval, a legacy of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, ROX is all about action: an outdoor Torch Relay and Cauldron experience, an interactive broadcast booth and inspirational films, complete with motion-actuated seats, are all sure to draw crowds. Hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic artifacts, including medals, torches and uniforms, round out the draw’s cheer-worthy display.

The awesome power of nature, featured in more than 100 significant pieces, draws the masses to The Robert Bateman Gallery on Vancouver Island. Situated in the historic Steamship Terminal of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, the Bateman gallery proves a happy marriage of notable art from one of Canada’s best-known artists alongside a call for conservation and awareness of nature and wildlife issues. Here, visitors can peruse feature exhibits that examine like-minded artistic works or take a leisurely stroll through permanent galleries that showcase Bateman’s diverse portfolio, including his journals, sculptures, etchings and paintings. As a bonus, techies can put their smart phones to best use, thanks to an interactive app chock full of candid interviews and colourful stories, direct from the man himself.

In Northern BC, the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay is a cultural jewel on remote Haida Gwaii. Set in Skidegate, and anchored by traditional Haida totem poles, this centre is a stunning showcase of the local Haida culture and traditions, with a focus on the deep connection between the land, the sea and the people who call this place home. Aboriginal language, art and stories are on proud display here, and visitors will glean insight, and even see masters at work, in the Haida Gwaii Museum and the Bill Reid Teaching Centre, the Performance House, Carving Shed and Canoe House. For those who feel peckish, a visit to the centre wouldn’t be complete without a nibble at Ḵay Bistro, where locals dish up crowd favourites that include bison and bacon burgers, albacore tuna, and halibut sandwiches served with taro chips.

Nestled deep in the Cariboo Mountains, the tiny town of Wells got its start as a mining community during the 1930s Gold Rush but has since redefined itself as a flourishing artistic hub. Home to the renowned Summer School of the Arts, as well as an International Harp School that attracts students and teachers from around the globe, Wells excels as a creative learning space for artists and musicians. Indeed, the Island Mountain Art Gallery sets the scene for all activity, including the popular summer ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art in summer (think musical performances, improv for beginners, dance sessions and the like). A former meat market, the gallery mirrors the quirkiness of the town and its inhabitants, providing a showcase that is a creative, eclectic space for year-round special events, including concerts, coffeehouses, literary readings and artist presentations.

A striking brick heritage building sets the scene for The Kamloops Courthouse Gallery in BC’s Thompson Okanagan. Here, visitors are treated to a cornucopia of visual and functional art — from photography to paintings in oil, pastel, watercolour and mixed media. The gallery showcases rotating art displays and offers demonstrations, workshops and exhibits, while the courthouse’s impressive gift shop boasts everything from pottery to jewelry, glass art, paintings, sculpture and fibre art. (Serious collectors take note: artist members sell their pieces, both at local artisan fairs and within the courthouse walls.) To further complement this already impressive lineup, two additional galleries — the Arinca Gallery and the Kamloops Arts Council Main Gallery — also make their home in the courthouse, promising an intriguing display of rotating contemporary exhibits.

In the province’s Kootenay Rockies, Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History embraces its storied mining past — a fact evidenced by its very name. With a nod to the ancient device, or touchstone, once used by miners to test the purity of gold and silver alloys, this gathering place now serves as a cultural touchstone for the community, west of Kimberley. Here, topics and themes reflect the curiosities and talents of people living in the region, from contemporary art and pop culture, to fine craft and design, to local architectural and human history. Permanent offerings include impressive First Nations displays, plus an in-depth look into Nelson’s mining past, the history of the town’s early transportation via railway and paddle wheelers, and more.

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