Pacific Rim Arts Society members attended the recent joint Arts BC and Heritage BC Conference on Granville Island. From left

West Coast to host arts conference between Tofino and Ucluelet

The West Coast’s reputation as a solid arts and cultural destination is helping local artists find new markets.

The West Coast’s reputation as a solid arts and cultural destination is helping local artists find new markets and collectors while also helping the tourism industry thrive.

Arts BC and Heritage BC have announced their annual joint-conference will be held on the West Coast next year and Arts BC president Kathy Ramsey penned a letter to both Ucluelet and Tofino’s municipal councils to spread the good news.

“We have chosen the Pacific Rim in part because of the natural beauty and the rich arts and cultural heritage of the area but also because we are very aware that the communities on the Pacific Rim are keenly and passionately aware of how vital a dynamic arts and cultural scene are for a community’s social wellbeing,” Ramsey wrote.

Ramsey facilitated a roundtable discussion in Ucluelet last year centred around a Cultural Policy Framework for the provincial government and was awed by the depth of local conversations.

“I was so struck by the deep knowledge of the participants on arts and cultural issues and feel strongly that your communities would be excellent role models for communities across the province,” she wrote.

Pacific Rim Art Society (PRAS) president Mark Penney told the Westerly the West Coast has developed a solid reputation throughout BC’s art community and he believes valuable knowledge can be mined from the local art scene.

“Attending the [Art BC] conference last year, we learned that we are leaders in the province in terms of integrating First Nations content into arts programming, so that’s one of the things that we want to seed and propagate into other areas of the province,” he said.

He said hosting 2017’s Arts BC and Heritage BC joint-conference could be an “economic boom” for the West Coast because it will bring roughly 400 key “art influencers” from across BC to attend.

“It’s an opportunity to show the rest of the province what we have to offer and to really highlight and reinforce how strong we are as an arts and cultural destination,” he said.

“We just want to show the real West Coast to the rest of the province and let them know that this is a destination for artists and for collectors. It is a place to experience rare beauty and remoteness and to get down to uninfluenced nature. Part of the reason people come here is that sentiment and, when they see it reflected in the artwork, it’s nearly irresistible.”

He added the conference would showcase the Coast’s artistic uniqueness and could expand the marketplace for local artists.

“It’s about recognizing the needs of local artists and getting those needs heard by the people who are the influencers and the shapers of how our arts, as a business, happen in British Columbia,” he said.

“There needs to be a healthy interaction, from the education system in schools to communities having available markets and art galleries and opportunities to put your artwork where people are when they’re receptive to seeing your work.”

He said putting local artwork in front of potential buyers is one of PRAS’ top priorities.

“It’s beautiful if your family understands and accepts your artwork, and if they appreciate it that’s even better. But, if two people walk into a room and both of them love your artwork and one of them is prepared to write you a cheque, you’re feeling just a little bit more supported and validated in that you can actually pursue your craft,” he said.

“It’s nice to think of art in all these abstract and well meaning things in our society; those are all very true and real arguments, but there’s a fundamental practicality to surviving in a profession as an artist and PRAS’ outlook is to advocate for our membership.”

He said PRAS’ membership runs the gamut from casual artists who create in their free time to career artists who make their living with their craft and all these artists need opportunities to showcase their work.

“They need a market. They need venues. Marketing has changed radically in the last handful of years and our artists are trying to find meaningful ways of connecting with their audience. Ultimately that leads to sales and to the money that comes thereafter,” he said.

He said PRAS works closely with both Tourism Ucluelet and Tourism Tofino to market the Coast as an arts and cultural destination and suggested a strong art scene has a positive and symbiotic relationship with a strong tourism industry.

“Coming from a fishing family, I recognize the value in tempting someone with something beautiful. So, if you’re visiting here and you’ve just had an incredible experience on the [Wild Pacific] Trail and you see somebody who’s really captured that in a piece of artwork, it’s really compelling,” he said. “We find there’s usually a direct correlation between tourism and art sales.”

He added the West Coast’s rich history with art is worth touting.

“This is the area where Emily Carr got her nickname and this is the area where Arthur Lismer painted so much we named a beach for him. Jack Biggin-Pound painted here and participated with our society and First Nations artists from the highest level of credentials are here just casually making some of the country’s finest art,” he said.

“Like most things on the West Coast we maybe don’t brag about it much…It’s not something that we tend to fist pump about, but it is significant and I believe it does deserve recognition, so we’re trying to find the language and approach that would benefit our communities and allow us to properly access these markets and introduce our artwork to the rest of the world.”

Penney has been thrilled with PRAS’ direction and growth over the past few years.

“By doing strategic planning and attending conferences we’ve been slowly accumulating and developing the skillsets that have allowed PRAS to grow,” he said.

“We’ve grown our budgets, we’ve expanded our area of operation, we’ve diversified the nature of activities that we’ve done and we’re specifically very, very, proud of our First Nations partnerships and integrations.”

He added government funding is available to the arts but local stakeholders must ensure it’s spent wisely.

“Our government recognizes arts as an important and integral part of a healthy community,” he said.

“They’ve made a serious effort to get art out to the people. I just feel that it’s our job to make sure that that happens and that it happens in a way that makes sense to our artists here. Many times the genres that our locals artists work in, or the mediums they work in, aren’t the standard materials-list that you see in art galleries.”

Penney and PRAS’ executive director Jacqueline Chamberland were both reelected to the Arts BC board last weekend.