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Incubating creativity in Kelowna
There are business incubators and technology incubators and technology-focused business incubators. And in the arts, creative incubators are no less prolific.
This week, the Capital News looked at a local creative incubator of sorts as the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art takes its programming in a new direction.
“Honestly, we wanted to find a ‘concept’ because we had so many artists whose art forms fit really well into book format,” says Lucas Glenn, one of four Studio One 11 zine students.
The group spent the better part of a year working out of studio 111 in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, a space operated by the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art and used to host its new co-op program.
As the first applicants selected to use the space as a co-op, the four young students began developing their creative voice by published a zine. A zine is a handmade magazine, part of a long-standing do-it-yourself tradition of skipping formal publishing filters by using basic technology, like photocopiers, to speak directly to an audience. It was a smash hit.
One of the artists, Brit Bachmann, took the opportunity to explore continuous line drawings. She has become the art manager for the Keloha Music and Art Festival this year and is honing her continuous contour line-drawings to develop her own niche in the art world.
Jeff Ellom, a writer, science student and reportedly the janitor at the RAC building, continues to produce the zine, though their stint incubating with the guidance of the Alternator's staff and board of directors has ended.
Glenn is now working for the Alternator, after spending the winter working on his typography skills in the zine en route to a career in fine book publishing.
As for their product, a little zine named One 11 (because the strongest uniting concept they came up with was the fact they were given the studio 111 space to develop creatively), it became a story in and of itself—and an international one at that.
“We expected the zines to go out into Kelowna, to introduce some new ideas to people who might not otherwise come across them or to trigger curiosity or stimulate questions in people who might not have come across zines in the past,” said Lorna McParland, artistic and administrative director of the Alternator. “But really, they were extremely proactive in tapping into the zine culture around the world.”
The group staged the first annual End-of-the-World Zine Fair at Milkcrate Records and exchanged work internationally with other zine artists.
They packed the small 111 studio for launch parties, offering local musicians a stage and artists a place to come see new work, talk about it, talk about their own work and, in short, strengthen the fabric of Kelowna’s creative community.
And they ultimately added a taste for new art forms in Kelowna while honing their own creative voices. The project well exceeded the Alternator Centre’s hopes when it launched the new co-op program.
The co-op program was basically designed as an artistic incubator.
“It’s great to create in your home or in your studio, but to present it out there, and to get constructive feedback from your peers, can really change your progress and the direction that you take your different projects in,” said McParland. “That can be intimidating, and it frequently is, but it’s a really important part of the creative process.”
The gallery is hoping that by giving artists the space to develop ideas, it will ultimately lead more local artists to submit to its public programming, competing with the international artists.
More generally, the aim of the Alternator is really to foster an active creative community and opening up the space for artists to work and interact with other working artists should prove an incredible resource.
“Sometimes fostering creative community means finding similarities in different people’s practice that they might think don’t exist. I think the term is ‘strategic essentialism,’ when you focus on the things that you do have in common or your shared goals, rather than focusing on what you don’t have in common,” explained McParland.
This is exactly how Cool Arts, the next occupant of the co-op studio, already operates.
Cools Arts helps foster creative development for people with diverse abilities. Their artists might be autistic or have a development disorder, but it is not an art therapy program. It is a non-profit society focused on developing the creative process for the individuals who participate, regardless of their differences or unique abilities.
The group is lead by champions like Sara Lige, the mother of one of the artists, and she's done a master’s degree on diverse abilities and the creative process.
As it's grown, Cool Arts has exhibited in the Kelowna Art Gallery, to one of its larger opening night crowds. Its artists have developed a room at Mad Hatter 2013, a community installation art exhibit held in an empty commercial space on Harvey Avenue last month, and they are routine contributors to art scene staples like the Conduit Festival.
The group's artists sell as well.
Jordan Lige, Sara’s son, is now in his 30s, has worked with the group for 10 years and is a regular contributor to shows like the Lake Country Art Walk.
His ninja birds, country cottages and superhero collages are bright, whimsical and focus squarely on the freeing kind of fantasy many artists strive for, but never achieve.
He started working on the walls of his bedroom, applying vast collages, covering every nook and crany.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Lige with a grin.He’s a die-hard X-Men fan and loves primary colours like red and blue.
From the brilliantly-coloured canvases he’s currently creating, one can imagine four walls with the intensity of his work would definitely produce a zany-feeling room.
Cool Arts helps him make his work portable (on canvas) and it will likely work well in the front window of the Alternator where, as part of the co-op opportunity, several Cool Arts artists will do a commissioned work.
And all of this was made possible because of the provincial gaming funds were cut back.
Just last week, the Alternator found out it will receive the gaming funds once more—a full 30 per cent boost to its current budget—but since the 2007 cuts, times have been lean.
Years of sponsoring an artist-in-residency program that brought contemporary artists in from all over the world ended when the Liberal government tightened the pursue strings in the lead-up to the Olympics, castrating many artist-focused centres.
Nevertheless, it did make room for new ideas.
“We had limited staff resources, but we did have space. So for us, it was really about looking at ways we could best use our space, not only to serve the Alternator, but to do community outreach.”
The centre quickly developed a member’s only exhibit program, curated by volunteers and operating 365-days-per-year to give members, primarily up-and-comers, a chance to exhibit publicly.
They also created the co-op program in 2012 with an eye to offering those who need work space a guided spot.
“We were looking for ways to increase the community engagement in arts and creativity,” said McParland. “…I think Kelowna has a very active creative community, but I think we also have a habit of isolating ourselves sometimes or working in smaller groups quite isolated from each other.”
Cool Arts is looking for two things from the space and the co-op program.
Executive director and artist Rena Warren says they need a permanent home for its artists to drop in and work, store work and access supplies.
The society is also looking to help foster opportunities for its artists to work, whether for money or simply to be part of the larger world of practicing artists.
“Some people have made a choice to practice their art and we are here to support them in that choice,” Warren said, explaining its less about professionalizing their practice or earning money as it is about the pursuit of art.
The group has just received a new funding stream from the B.C. Arts Council for professional development, though, and they’ll be bringing in a stream of working artists, from bloggers to photographers, to introduce new skills.
By fall, they will put out a publication to encapsulate a taste of what Cool Arts’ first decade in operation has brought to Kelowna and to the artists who work under the Cool Arts umbrella.
Around the world, places like the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton or Art Spider, operated by Mencap in the United Kingdom, help mentor and support artists with diverse abilities. Warren envisions an open studio program developing somewhere permanent—preferably with a kiln or maybe an on-site press—in the future. This is an important first step.
For now, abandoning the logistics of moving from classroom space to rental storage, as they have done for the last decade, should offer the kind of intellectual reprieve needed for both the Cool Arts artists and directors to get creative with their future.
As of their grand opening this week, Cool Arts will be incubating ideas in studio 111 of the Rotary Centre for the Arts for the next six months.