Some years present more challenges than others and I think we can all agree that 2020 has presented some very difficult challenges. The Gabriola Arts Council has not been immune and found itself swimming in firsts and decisions for pivoting.
After surveying artists and careful consideration, the Board has made the most difficult decision of all and that is cancelling the 24th annual Thanksgiving Studio Tour. Some artists will be happy, some will be relieved, and some will be disappointed, but with over half of the artists either uneasy about going forward or choosing to close their studios during Tour, and a significant number concerned about the effect on community, the choice was clear. This is not the year to have the Studio Tour.
Jeff Malmgren, President of GAC had these words to share, “In a time of tough decisions, this one was maybe the toughest. The Thanksgiving Tour holds a critical place in the culture of our community – its value extends from the artist themselves to the people and businesses in the community to the hundreds from off island who mark it as a must do in their cultural calendar each year. We worked hard to understand the needs of each of those, and most importantly that of the Gabriola community as a whole.
Many people wanted to move ahead – to support themselves and their businesses and, maybe most importantly, to move back a little closer to normal. But even among those there was an understanding that the risks could outweigh the rewards, and a strong willingness to support the decision once it was made. It’s a tribute to our artists that, even though they may have differed, this was in no way divisive, and we’ve come together with them to look forward to a Tour in 2021 that will be that much better for waiting (it’s the hardest part).
For now we’ll focus on a different kind of access to our arts and artists. Carol and her staff are working to create virtual options that if not ‘real life’ will at least let folks see what our artists are working on, and whet their appetite for what’s to come.
We look forward to seeing everyone online soon, and in full face-to-face three dimensions as soon as safely possible.”
So what will we do to pivot? Carol Fergusson, Executive Director explains, “Back in March when I first took on the role of ED, I applied for a grant from the Vancouver Foundation. I didn’t tell anyone, I was so naïve I didn’t even ask if anyone agreed with my idea. Coming from a place of passion I was all about protecting the Studio Tour from COVID-19 and asked for a sizeable amount of money to pivot to a virtual tour. As it turns out they granted us the full amount and now we can offer artists a dynamic e-commerce site and something called a Photospher. A 360 degree view of a studio with an audio overlay, created by Jules Molloy, will be integrated into the website.
Each artist will have a page with up to 10 pieces of their work, a bio, a head shot, links to their online work and a form where visitors can connect with them directly. We are starting with Studio Tour artists, but the site will be opened up to all the arts for a small annual fee – so for musicians replace paintings with audio clips or videos, for authors e-books, etc. The website is called “the arts on gabriola”. We have a big job ahead of us, as our launch date is mid-September. The website will become a permanent part of GAC and it will be marketed as a separate site. I’ve already been pitching it to set designers in the movie industry. We have to think outside the box and outside the island.
In addition, we will be rebranding the Studio Tour brochure to the Studio Guide brochure. It will include messaging about why we’re not having the Tour, the importance of supporting the arts, directing visitors to the virtual tour and encouraging them to make appointments with artists to see their work. It won’t be the same, but I think it will work for visitors just as much as artists.”
A year of firsts, a year of pivoting, a year of being kind, being calm, being safe. We will be calling on the community to support the artists more than ever. The new brochure will be out in August, make some appointments, buy local, leave room for art in your life. We love our artists and we love our community and we are committed to everyone’s well-being.