Making it in the mountains

It's easy to romanticize the idea of living and working in an inspiring location, but how do artists make it a reality? In this story, some of Revelstoke's art community members explain what it's like making it in the mountains.

Shea Slager (right), Charise Folnovic (middle), and Susan Lind (left) are all part of the Art First Gallery located in downtown Revelstoke. They explain some of the realities of making it as an artists in Revelstoke. Photo: Nora Hughes

This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s September 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:

Nestled next to the Columbia River, below cascading glaciers and alpine peaks, it’s easy to find natural inspiration in Revelstoke. The natural allure of the town has drawn people who crave the outdoors, adventure sports, culture, and community, among other things. Revelstoke fosters a robust artistic community, and the art scene blooms and blossoms as the town grows.

It’s easy to romanticize the confluence of place and passion. Living in Revelstoke can seem picturesque, as if an artist inspired by the mountains spends every day holed up in a beautiful alpine meadow, painting their surroundings. Finding inspiration can be easy, but how easy is it to make it as an artist in this mountain town?

“My dad used to say, falling off a greased log is easy,” says Shea Slager, metal artist and member of the Art First Gallery. “It is what you put into it. Just like everything else in life. If you want to be an artist, then you’re putting all your ponies in that race.”

Shea Slager’s metal artwork displayed at the Art First Gallery in downtown Revelstoke. Photo: Nora Hughes

Shea, Charise Folnovic, and Susan Lind are all part of the Art First Gallery located in downtown Revelstoke. The Gallery is run like a co-op, owned and operated by local artists. You need to be a member or commissioned artist to display your art in the gallery. Members pay a monthly membership fee and work 12 hours a month in the gallery. As a member, artists have a larger space for their artwork that they arrange. Commissioned artists have smaller displays. When a member’s art sells, the artist gets 80% of the profits, and 20% goes to the gallery.

Commissioned artists split the profits 60/40 with the gallery. “As far as money goes, then together we’re much stronger as a group to sell our art and reach out and open up new markets,” Shea says.

Charise Folnovic’s artwork is displayed at the Art First Gallery. Photo: Nora Hughes

“This is living the dream, I think,” Shea says. “People say I’m living the dream all the time.” Since retiring, Shea moved to Revelstoke, bought a fixer-upper house, creates art and hangs out with the folks at the gallery. It seems idyllic.

“It’s also hard work, though,” says Charise. “There’s maybe 30% actually making the art and then 70% admin, marketing, networking — all the stuff that you don’t even realize until you start doing it more full-time.” Charise’s travels inspire her artwork. A long career in hospitality paid for those travels before she transitioned into full-time art during the Pandemic. “It’s leaving that security safety blanket and then just going for it,” she says.

Shea said when he transitioned focus towards his art, he was worried about how other people would perceive it. “You’re gonna have an audience,” he says. “You’re giving up your security blanket to jump into a pool of alligators and have to manage all that. That’s the tough part for me.”

Susan points out the unexpected side of art. “You could put everything into it, and then art changes,” she says. All three artists agree that the ease or difficulty of making a living at art is about personal definitions of success.

Artwork by Susan Lind displayed at the Art First Gallery. Photo: Nora Hughes

Many artists in Revelstoke have to hustle to make their art available to the community. Graphic designer and illustrator Benji Andringa collaborates with small businesses, creates his art, and then distributes it through those relationships.

Benji Andringa of Lowclass Art. Photo: Benji Andringa

You may recognize some of Benji’s work, LowClassArt, from around town; The colourful illustrations on the Big Bear Limo or the art on the labels of Stoke the Fire’s hot sauce bottles. He has work displayed in Revy Outdoors, Mt. Begbie Brewing Co., Begbie Kids, and more. Benji has been successful in his career.

His success didn’t come without hard work. “Simply put, get creative, create your own opportunities. Break out of your comfort zone and interact with the community. Harness the stoke,” Benji says, describing the hustle that has gone into his success. Benji offers graphic design and illustration services to make money but also does logos, branding, apparel and merchandise as his “bread and butter.”

Benji has been working for himself for the last four years as a freelancer. “The business end of freelancing has been a challenge. Everything from writing a business plan, pricing, pitching projects, bookkeeping and accounting,” he says. However, the hard work allows him to live his dream in Revelstoke. He can choose projects he’s passionate about and work with people who inspire him.

When Benji first came to town, he printed T-shirts by day for Integrated Apparel and Somewon Collective and cooked pizza by night at Nico’s Pizzeria. “Just like the town, it’s always growing and evolving,” Benji says, describing the art scene in Revelstoke. “You might be low on income here in Revelstoke, but you won’t be short on inspiration. If you have the right outlook and work hard, you can make it work.”

While all artists in town have some version of a hustle, definitions of success vary. For some artists in Revelstoke, the end goal isn’t to make a living off their art. “Some people are making a living, selling their art trade, and for me, it’s different,” Shea says. “I do it for pleasure, and I’m happy that it sells every once in a while.”

Cherise says making art is something that she has to do. “It’s something that just has to come out in some shape or form; otherwise, it can start to feel scattered or crazy,” she says.

Sometimes success can be a small part of a larger, endless cycle. Once achieved, the definition of success can change, and the process to get there starts all over again.

Nora Hughes is a recent graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Interdisciplinary Program, where she combined her passions for Adventure Tourism, Communications and Journalism. With a strong interest in community news, Nora is passionate about giving a voice and face to the people of Revelstoke through storytelling.