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Close Up: Lake Country's ArtWalk: The past and the present

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When Michael Kiss moved to the Okanagan after growing up in small town Saskatchewan, he wasn’t sure what his future would hold.

But as an young emerging artist enrolled in UBC Okanagan’s visual arts program, Kiss knew he wanted to make a career using his creativity.

What kind of artist he would become, and what kind of community he would find in the Okanagan Valley, was another question.

“Growing up in Saskatchewan in a small community it wasn’t the most open to the arts,” says Kiss, a week before he will debut several works at the Lake Country ArtWalk, Sept. 6 and 7.

“Out here it’s fantastic. There are tons of people to talk to and I’ve been in contact with lots of other artists. People are fairly open about being in the arts community. It’s a great place.”

Kiss is a visual artist, working with stone, metal and bronze to create works based on natural elements that, when combined with the sharp lines of geometry, create an abstract piece.

Heading into his fourth year at UBC Okanagan, Kiss is bringing mythology into his latest works, such as the unfinished stone carving called Yggdrasil—the tree of life—which according to Norse mythology is where the god’s live.

“It’s a contrast of imagery,” explains Kiss. “I like to combine images and play with nature. Natural imagery, organics but also using geometry, the hard lines of urban design.

“What I’m trying to do with this sculpture is abstract it slightly so it can speak to more people.”

At 21, Kiss’ artistic endeavours are just beginning; his career is in front of him; his creations evolving all the time.

This year he will take another step towards art as a career. He will display as many as 20 of his original artworks at the Lake Country ArtWalk, the biggest art show he has been accepted to and the number one art show in the Okanagan.

Last year he was like thousands of other art lovers as he took in ArtWalk as a patron.

This year he will be alongside some 300 other artists, laying his work out for the public to consume and possibly purchase.

“I’m excited,” he says. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into these pieces. I’m excited to get feedback from the public.

“When you are in university, you know the people who are viewing your work, other students and professors. But you don’t know the public, you don’t know what they will say. You get a greater view of what people think of your work and that’s exciting.”

•••

For the past 21 years Lake Country ArtWalk has been the single biggest gathering of artists in the Okanagan.

It’s a multi-arts festival that features work in mediums like theatre, dance, literary and media arts. It displays only original art produced by artists living in the Okanagan Valley.

It’s a festival that not only gives the public a great chance to take in one-of-a-kind art works but also motivates the artists by bringing the creative community together in one spot.

To stimulate the artists, organizers have a policy that artists cannot show the same piece of work they’ve shown in previous years.

It forces the creation of new works of art and has led to a strong development of creative skill in the valley, according to organizer Sharon McCoubrey.

“Many artists come back to us and tell us that when the show is over they get back to work to create new things,” McCoubrey says.

“They go back and do whatever it takes to develop their work for next year.”

This year the Lake Country ArtWalk is expecting 300 artists and thousands of original artworks set up in four major venues all within walking distance of each other: Lake Country’s municipal hall, Memorial Hall, the Lake Country Art Gallery and at George Elliot High School.

But it was not always such a huge event. The ArtWalk actually began as a way for the owners of Holiday Park resort in Lake Country to show off a private art collection.

“The owners of the Holiday Park resort had local art displayed in their sales’ room and would put on a public event,” says McCoubrey of the ArtWalk’s modest beginnings in 1994.

“It grew over the first five years to the point where the people that lived in the resort thought it was getting too big.

“When Holiday Park said they couldn’t do it anymore, Lake Country had just built the community complex at the high school. And it’s just kept growing since then.”

So after enjoying solid growth in its first five years at Holiday Park, the ArtWalk became a true community event in Lake Country in 1999 and it really took off.

The event is put on by a volunteer community group headed by McCoubrey.

Despite the length of the event and its growth, McCoubrey and the other organizers have kept the admission low, hoping to continue to help the arts community along the way.

Admission has always been just two dollars.

“We’re not about making money, if we can meet our expenses and put on a good event we are happy,” she says.

“We’ve kept our prices low enough to have it affordable for families and seniors and so everyone can come and experience it.”

McCourbey says the ArtWalk has always been about developing artists, especially those in the Okanagan Valley. Rare is it that an artist is accepted to show work who is from outside of the valley.

“We’ve always kept our mandate to support the artists of the Okanagan Valley,” says McCoubrey.

“I’m always surprised at application time how many people are first time applicants.

“It’s a good event where the artists can be exposed to potential customers and also use it to make connections with other artists.”

This year the ArtWalk has also jumped into the charity business and has partnered with Soles4Souls.

After celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, McCoubrey says the group wanted to look forward to the next decade and came up with the slogan A Step Forward.

Along with the two dollar admission, the public is asked to bring a gently used pair of shoes that will be donated to the charitable group.

“Every year we organize it around a different theme,” she says.

“This year is the first year in the next decade so it’s a step forward. We want people to bring shoes in and we are going to build a mountain of shoes. It’s a little extra fun and we hope people get

behind it.”

•••

A step forward is what young artist Michael Kiss will be taking when he puts 20 of his best works into the ArtWalk.

He is keeping some of his early works out of his first show and his latest pieces are being worked on for his final year of studies.

“A lot of my early pieces I haven’t put into the show,” he says.

“But I have a wide range of stuff…some sculptures, some prints and some wood working. I’m pretty excited and a little nervous. I want to do this as a profession so I want to get insight on what people think.”

You can view Kiss and many other artists’ original works at the Lake Country ArtWalk Sept. 6 and 7. Find more information online at artwalk-lc.ca.

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