This is a designer’s rendition of proposed renovations to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre

This is a designer’s rendition of proposed renovations to the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre

Revelstoke arts scene on the move

Summer music festival at RMR confirmed, RPAC expands programming, Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre expansion planned, downtown mural coming

Summer music festival at RMR confirmed for 2014, RPAC expands programming, Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre expansion planned, downtown mural coming

There’s a vibrant new energy behind the Revelstoke performing and visual arts scenes, which has been rejuvenated and continues to grow in variety, volume and vivaciousness in the past several years. Although there are several contributing factors, the obvious driver is an influx of arts creators and consumers who have been attracted by our lifestyle.

I spoke with a sampling of Revelstoke arts organizers to peek into the future of the Revelstoke arts scene. I found out there are lots of initiatives in the planning stage that will continue to add to the expanding scene.

Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre strives to be a community, not just a facility

Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) theatre manager Miriam Manley took on the new 275-seat facility about half a year ago, and continues to build programming.

“It’s early days of the venue,” Manley explained in an interview.

She said the RPAC “hit the ground running,” and has been developing a management plan in conjunction with the Revelstoke Arts Council. In a nutshell, the RPAC management plan didn’t exist a few months before the school-based facility was completed, and they’ve been building the vision since then.

Manley explained that vision is to be more than just a facility. “It’s something that we’re definitely looking at to, in the sense of how do you move away from being a venue, just an empty shell, and how do you begin to have a community and a venue as a more meaningful relationship with artists and with performance groups?”

She’s got lots of new acts lined up for the rest of the calendar year, such as Axis Theatre, the Street Kings, The Bills, Calgary improv troupe Loose Moose and puppeteers Rock the Arts.

They’re also opening the venue up to artist residencies, something they’d like to develop.

RPAC will he hosting a residency by Vancouver-based  Aeriosa Dance Society, known for their innovative performances involving dancers hanging from buildings using ropes and harnesses.

RPAC has also lined up a summer youth theatre residency by Edmonton-based Theatre Prospero. Performers and artists will work with local youth to stage a collaborative Shakespeare play.

Manley said the creators are exploring theatre models across B.C. and beyond as they develop their three- to five-year plan, exploring existing models in Banff, Nelson, the Okanagan and on the Coast.

The RPAC is a local arts venue, but has ambitions of being part of a drive to build Revelstoke as an arts destination. “Economically there are challenges around the size of the venue,” Manley said. To attract acts that would bring in bigger names and events means higher ticket prices, for example.

“I don’t know how ambitious our mission and vision for the centre has been, and maybe that’s yet to be seen,” she said.

Now, RPAC is working on a branding package and is still exploring an official name. They’re also trying to establish an alcohol policy with the school district, who own the theatre. Manley said the lack of alcohol hasn’t been a major deterrent, but at least two acts decided not to book when they heard there was no alcohol at the venue.

Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre plans renovation

When I visit Jacquie Pendergast at Art First! Gallery on First Street West, renowned Vancouver visual artist Jerry Whitehead strolls in. He’s been at Begbie View Elementary teaching an art program.

Whitehead shows me a stunning seven-storey high mosaic mural he’s just completed on the side of an East Hastings hotel.

It’s a reminder of the deep talent pool with links to Revelstoke, and prompts Pendergast to tell me about a new mural program in downtown Revelstoke.

Along with artist Tina Lindegaard, Pendergast will be creating a set of three murals on the alleyway side of the McKinnon building next door. The historical mural will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building, which now hosts the Nickelodeon Museum. Pendergast is hopeful the mural project will spark interest, noting there are lots of blank canvases in the alleys of Revelstoke.

Opening Art First! in the spring of 2010 was a bold move. The artists’ co-op has survived because of concessions from the building’s owner and free labour from the artists, who do shifts at the gallery without compensation.

It was touch and go a year ago, explained Pendergast, but in the past year it’s picked up. “I do feel optimistic,” she said. “A year ago I though we would have to close. I just think there is optimism for the future.”

Pendergast said about 70 per cent of their clients are locals, but they’ve been getting repeat business from regular visitors to Revelstoke. “They’ll stop by a year later and say, ‘Oh, you’re still here,’” she joked.

What can be done to help grow their business, and visual arts in Revelstoke? Pendergast said Art First! has concerns very similar to downtown businesses. “The types of stores you have reflect community values,” she said, noting several recently-shuttered retail locations.

She supports local initiatives, like the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s 10 per cent shift, and said anything attracting downtown traffic would be welcome.

It’s a perennial debate, but Pendergast feels more could be done to attract motorists. Like many, she feels that most motorists (potential customers) are just plain unaware Revelstoke has a charming heritage downtown. How about a big billboard on the highway with a photograph of downtown? A visual artist herself, Jacquie pans the burgundy and gold colour combo on the existing ‘Visit Downtown Revelstoke’ sign, saying it’s unappealing and not in a good location.

“It’s about capturing the passing tourists, passing travellers,” she said. That includes more events that attract people to town. “Events not just for the people of Revelstoke, but ones that draw people in.”

In all endeavours, it’s about creating that sense of here, that experience of – of Revelstoke. That’s borne out in art sales, for example. “The more successful [our artists] are at showing a connection with here, the more successful they are.”

Pendergast is also instrumental in the operation of the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre, which has plans for a facility upgrade in the works.

The old RCMP station (where you can take an art class in the old cells, complete with iron bars) is full of artists these days. All of the small studios are rented out, and the art openings usually attract a healthy crowd.

Pendergast said the centre is trying to address their location issue; they’re tucked away behind the railway bridge and hard to access. Improvement plans include installing atrium windows above portions of the building to let in natural light. They plan to landscape towards Victoria Road in order to present a more appealing profile to passing motorists. A new exterior mural has been completed, and new signage is planned.

There are three main visual arts events this summer. The Revelstoke Art Walk is back. Revelstoke will be participating in the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance Art Walk, which is an opportunity for locals to check out artists at work. A new garden art walk series is planned for July in conjunction with the North Columbia Environmental Society. Participants can tour local gardens where art exhibits will be displayed.

New Revelstoke summer music festival planned for 2014

Toronto folk-rock act Elliott BROOD sold out Traverse night club last week for an enthusiastic crowd at a weekday show, then put on a school show the next day. The show was organized by Amy Flexman of Flex Productions.

Flexman moved here from Ontario to be a teacher about three years ago, but wasn’t able to secure a position, so she made her own work.

The Revelstoke Arts Council board member started producing shows, using contacts and experience from similar work back east.

She’d get on the internet and look at performers’ tour schedules, looking for favourites who had shows planned in Calgary and Vancouver, reasoning she’d be able to convince them to stop by Revelstoke overnight.

She’s worked on a concert series with other promoters at the Big Eddy Pub, bringing about 700 people out to shows this winter. For Flexman, it’s about “creating community – going out to see a show. Not just watching stuff on YouTube or listening to stuff on iTunes.”

Her focus has been on bringing Canadian independents to town. “They don’t get recognized like they should,” she said.

This story is focusing on the future of the arts in Revelstoke, so I asked about Revelstoke’s limitations, and what we can do to improve them.

“People from all ages are really starting to talk about Revelstoke,” Flexman said, noting a growing reputation amongst musicians.

But we are limited in venues. Flexman said the local drinking establishment owners are active and supportive of music, but the pubs aren’t big enough for larger acts; they don’t hold enough people and ticket prices would be astronomical to cover the artist fee for bigger names.

Flexman is hoping her latest venture will solve the issue. It’s been a rumour for months, but just last week she confirmed booking for a new summer music festival. The Revelstoke Summer Solstice Music Festival will take place June 20 and 21, 2014 at the mid-mountain lodge at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Flexman plans to use the natural amphitheatre shape of the slope uphill from the lodge as the seating area, and place the stage at the bottom, so the audience will overlook the Columbia Valley.

“People will be blown away by the background,” she said.

Flexman is getting the word out now, and has got callbacks from some bigger-named bands.

“I’ve got a vision and a plan,” Flexman said. “I think why I do this is so I can bring a good community event to Revelstoke. I love Revelstoke. I think this is the perfect backdrop for so many outstanding events. It strengthens the community to have something to be proud of in your community. I think a festival like this could be something to be proud of for the whole community.”



See the June 5 issue for the second half of our story focusing on changes in the Revelstoke arts scene.