Revelstoke Visual Arts Society celebrates 20 years

Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre main gallery with wooden floors and cream white walls. A full sized painted canoe hangs from the ceiling left-of-center.
Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre’s main gallery, showcasing previous artist, Karen Tamminga-Paton’s show Ventilate. Photo by Lys Morton

Revelstoke Visual Arts Society (RVAS) is gearing up to celebrate 20 years in town with an all ages celebration and opening of two new shows on Saturday, April 27 at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre.

“People are coming through the doors, shocked at us celebrating 20 years, telling us, ‘how can you only be celebrating 20 years?’ We’ve been doing art for so much longer,” Meghan Porath, RVAS’ executive director and curator told the Revelstoke Mountaineer.

The celebrations include a Member’s Show, which will run alongside the Golden Girls Show from April 25 to May 26 before welcoming new artists to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre gallery in June. RVAS’ 20th anniversary party on April 27 will include live painting demonstrations, a creative space for folks of all ages to try their hand at painting, food trucks, live music and a tour of the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre.

All in all, it will be a chance to celebrate everyone who has made RVAS possible over the years, Porath said.

“There have been so many people in my role over the years, who have left a mark on the society and on the centre. We really are standing on their shoulders…all that work is really starting to pay off, I think. I’m starting to hear more and more from outside of the community that Revelstoke is an arts town.”

A history 50 years in the making

RVAS grew out of the Revelstoke Art Group, founded in 1949 by Sophia Atkinson and a group of fellow painters who wanted to find space and support in their artistic endeavors. The group met regularly in living rooms, public spaces and other areas around town before settling in the upper offices of the Revelstoke Post Office, years before the building would become the home of Revelstoke Museum & Archives (RMA). The space allowed for the Revelstoke Art Group to host art shows, visiting artists, community teas and a long list of lessons for all ages.

“We started from zero,” Atkinson said in a past interview now found at the RMA. 

Humble beginnings aside, a  passion for the beauty found within the Kootenay region, and a drive to make art as accessible as possible, led to the success of the Revelstoke Art Group. 

When they were momentarily without a space during RMA’s expansion into the upper level of the museum building in the mid 1990s, the group survived until they were able to find a new home at the former Revelstoke RCMP building. Soon after settling into the new centre, the Revelstoke Art Group founded RVAS to oversee the operations of the facility and shepherd it into the future.

“When I first moved here I didn’t necessarily see it as an arts town,” Porath admitted. “But we’re so very fortunate for the work Sophia and that whole initial group put into the arts here in Revelstoke.”

RVAS’ Meghan Porath (L) and Taylor Sandell help with the set up of Karen Tamminga-Paton’s show Ventilate. Photo by RVAS

Throughout the entire evolution of Revelstoke Art Group to RVAS, Porath said two core values have led the way: “Creating space for play and for sanctuary.”

“I’ve talked to people who have been working in the building for many, many years,” Porath said. “People who have connections to those original art meetups in living rooms, and it always comes back to somehow creating a space for folks to play with all the different styles of art and just have a safe place.”

For artists young and old, near and far

RVAS volunteers help with the set up of Karen Tamminga-Paton’s show Ventilate. Photo by RVAS

One of the exhibitions opening during the 20th anniversary celebration will be from the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre’s Golden Girls art group, a collection of senior artists who cherish the centre not just for the physical space to create art, but for the community it has created.

“Almost every time they’re here they tell me they’re here to do art,” Porath laughed. “They make lovely pieces, absolutely, but it’s also a lot of chatting and drinking coffee.”

The Golden Girls’ weekly Wednesday meetups are part of a range of classes, clubs and drop-ins RVAS provides, including the recently-launched creative writing courses, the wait-listed pottery classes and the tiny art swaps 

“People tell us how beautiful it is that as an adult or as a kid they have space to just to play and explore and challenge your thinking and just have fun.”

That theme of play means an ever evolving collection of courses and resources at the centre.

“We used to have a fully functioning dark room, a leftover from when this was the RCMP building,” Porath said. “When film photography waned we cleared out that space, but now film is having another comeback and folks are asking if we’ve ever considered having a dark room.”

The winter art drop-ins, a late night activity welcoming participants to bring whatever art project in the works and a favorite tea to the the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre, have wrapped for the season. But Porath sees the potential for a summer return.

“How many folks are living in studio apartments,” Porath wondered. “Renting a bedroom in a house, they don’t have a space dedicated to art. This was a way to give folks that space and get them out of the house for a bit.”

Warmer weather and longer days could see the program take advantage of the green space in and around the gallery, the long term plan for the drop-in nights would partially depend on volunteers willing to help facilitate, same as many future plans.

“We’re always open to folks providing different art classes, different opportunities for our community. What ways can we keep giving Revelstoke opportunities for that play, for that safe space to explore,” Porath said.

The centres gift shop provides opportunities for local and regional artists as well, giving priority to Revelstoke artists and products. There are also four different exhibit spaces at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre, the main gallery hall and three smaller rooms, all linked with doorways that provide a sense of separation while keeping the flow of the overall space. It gives RVAS an opportunity to feature artists from across Canada and even internationally visiting while always keeping at least one space for Revelstoke and Kootenay artists.

“What’s great about that is that people visiting our community can see the wonderful breadth of art and local artists that we have.”