It’s an instant arts community in uptown White Rock – the kind of place where the eyes of passersby can expect only an ever-changing canvas of artistic possibility.
At the city-sponsored Pop-Up-Town/Gallery To Go space at 1459B Johnston Rd. you can expect not only watercolours and acrylics and oils displayed, but also jewelry and other multimedia work – and, in coming weeks, children’s theatre and First Nations basket-work.
And people walking by the high-traffic area can’t seem to resist the opportunity to stop and look in the window at the latest portrait painting taking shape through careful brush-strokes of currently highlighted artist Veronica Davies.
City cultural development manager Claire Halpern said she’s “very excited” about how the city’s initiative has been working for artists since the space officially opened April 14 – and the very positive feedback from the public.
“We’re keeping fingers crossed that we’ll be able to continue with this,” she told Peace Arch News, while noting that the future of the program – occupying the former Tourism White Rock offices – remains at the will of city council and the budget process.
“There are huge benefits of having artists working together – and I don’t think I would have gotten to know all these people without this,” Halpern said.
She added the current success story started in 2014, when council approved the city’s cultural strategic plan. One of the action items identified was employing under-used retail space in the city for arts purposes, and a subcommittee studied the idea for a year, but without being able to identify an existing space that would be affordable, Halpern said.
“But with the changes in Tourism White Rock, the (Johnston Road) space came available and it seemed like the opportunity to do what we had been proposing,” she said.
“The time frame was really short between when we got council approval at the end of February/early March and when we got the first group in the space on April 1.”
That first group was organized ad-hoc by Davies, a local painter of watercolour landscapes and portraits, who called on people she knew, through the South Surrey and White Rock Art Society and other arts organizations, to use the space co-operatively.
These include metal and stone artist June Bloye, showing her jewelry and abstract paintings; Jess Rice, with appealing acrylics and watercolours of cats, chickens and livestock; and painters Melanie Kuzminsky and Mary Lake showing evocative landscapes.
“Mary has lived a lot of places including around San Diego,” Davies said. “Since she moved up here, she’s been asking if there are any co-op galleries here – so she was one of the first people I thought of.”
“This is a great place to show art,” said Bloye, who commended the committee for underlining that the space is open to all kinds of art, including jewelry and 3-D sculpture.
“People walking up and down the street are so happy – it’s a gallery they can come into and walk around and look around without feeling any obligation,” she added. “We’re encouraging the city to keep the space available beyond the end of November.”
“It’s been fantastic,” said Davies, who has been working on a series of portraits of Peninsula artists during the initial show to help focus public attention on the creative movers and shakers in the community.
“There’s been so much interest from people walking by, and I love it when, after watching you painting earlier, they come back and give you a ‘thumbs-up’ through the window. And people don’t usually get to see a group of artists working together.”
“People are so used to seeing the final product, they don’t often see the process,” Bloye said. “I have to give kudos to Veronica for organizing us – she has phenomenal organizing skills – and also the city which has done a wonderful job publicizing us,” Rice said.
In addition to showing his paintings, Rice will follow up on an initial bookbinding course with a May 7, 3-6 p.m. session at the gallery (spaces are still available), during which participants will learn how to put together their own custom journal or sketchbook.
The pop-up with the current group of artists will close May 12, after which Susan Pendleton’s Surrey Youth Theatre will present a different take on Little Red Riding Hood May 13 and 14.
Then it will be the turn of a collective of First Nations artists, which will hold a formal opening on May 28, organized by well-known Semiahmoo artist Roxanne Charles, herself a member of the subcommittee that advocated for the pop-up initiative.
“Having affordable options for artists is really important,” Charles said. “It’s really nice to see how this has been set up, and that it offers a variety of different kinds of art – I think that’s a more successful business model.
“The group coming in are all artists from Semiahmoo First Nation – a total of eight people. A lot of them don’t really consider themselves artists, but we have a lot of really talented weavers along with people who will show painting and carving.”
Halpern said upcoming groups at the pop-up gallery will include the Z-inc collective spearheaded by Cora and Don Li-Leger, the Semiahmoo Potters, Semiahmoo Arts and the annual 12-by-12 exhibit of the International Artists Day Festival in October.