Revy Cultural Evolution: A deep dive into Revelstoke’s arts scene

Revelstoke resident Carol Palladino has been a key volunteer organizer of the arts scene in Revelstoke for decades, serving in behind-the-scenes roles, driving focus on building arts organizations and managing finances. To better understand how Revelstoke's arts scene got here and its future potential, we reached out to Carol for an essay exploring the development of the arts and culture scene in Revelstoke.

Carol Palladino

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:

By Carol Palladino

I’ve been a volunteer in the arts sector locally, regionally and provincially for over 25 years. The reason I have made this commitment is because I want to live in a community that supports and welcomes creativity in all its forms. I want to see live music, dance and theatre, paintings and pottery and wonderful photos right here by excellent local artists. I want to understand Revelstoke through these mediums because, after all, that is what art is, a medium through which we tell our stories.

When Aaron asked me to write this piece on how the Revelstoke cultural scene has evolved to its current iteration, I wondered; where should I start? I think the grizzly sculptures by local artists Fran Jenkins and Bill Cameron that were incorporated into the design for Grizzly Plaza in 1986 is where I see a beginning. Revelstoke started a new chapter in our story by using art and design as a way to move out of the debilitating recession of the mid-’80s.

In the following decade, what we now know as Revy.Live Outside (originally “Music in the Plaza” and “Summer Streetfest”) was founded by Vern Enyedy in the summer of 1992 and is a fundamental part of our Revelstoke summer enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. This summer-long event is currently produced by Arts Revelstoke.

I began volunteering in the arts sector in 1995, helping to produce the Mountain Arts Festival, a late-September weekend filled with fringe theatre in a variety of venues in the city centre, international street performers in Grizzly Plaza and a few music performances as well. The festival was a response to the economic need expressed for shoulder season events and was produced by the Revelstoke Theatre group until the Revelstoke Arts Council was incorporated in 1997, and then the festival became a collaboration of the two organizations. It ran for 11 years on volunteer labour.

A music festival began in the late ‘90s by Layne Seabrook became the Mountain Beats & Blues Festival – a late June event held in Centennial Park to entice the shoulder season visitors also ran on volunteer labour until 2009.

The Revelstoke Theatre Company (formed in 1978), which had presented an annual selection of plays in various venues since their inception, began producing a community musical every year in the late ‘90s. The venue was the “old” Revelstoke Secondary School gym, and between 1,800 and 2,000 people came out over the run of the show. The last musical presented at the “old” school was “Chicago” in 2009.

In the heritage sector, the Revelstoke Museum, under the curatorial expertise of Cathy English, was becoming the top-notch institution it is today. The Railway Museum, created through federal funding in the late ‘80s, was gaining traction with visitors and the B.C. Interior Forestry Museum was just beginning operations in 1999.

Several new organizations were started in the early 2000s. Revelstoke Visual Arts Society turned the old RCMP facility into the thriving public gallery space it is today. A thriving membership, wonderful exhibitions, a woodworking studio, home to the pottery guild and a community garden makes it a major player.

The new millennium saw a positive shift in capacity across the local cultural sector as the Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives program and the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance (The CBT’s specific cultural funding) funds became available to all the non-profits providing cultural services to the city. This process resulted in good grant writing skills that expanded the opportunities for the eligible cultural non-profits in our community to submit successful grant applications to the various government agencies that fund arts, culture and heritage.

2012 saw the completion of the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre at the new Revelstoke Secondary school, a facility funded by the BC Ministry of Education’s “Neighborhoods of Learning.” Many municipalities hold referendums to enable them to build this type of facility and we are very lucky indeed to have such an amazing cultural asset and professional venue in town. It is currently programmed by Arts Revelstoke.

Flying Arrow Productions has brought the community musical back to life with the wonderful production SHREK in early 2020 and this year’s fantastic run of Mamma Mia at Queen Elizabeth Park.

The newest festival on the block, of course, is LUNA, Nocturnal Art and Wonder. This contemporary festival is the brainchild of Miriam Manley, Victoria Strange, Rob Buchanan and Jana Thompson. Produced by Arts Revelstoke, this unique experience/event began in 2017 and has expanded to a three-day happening that includes music and artists talks/studio tours. LUNA has also created a legacy project – Art Alleries, transforming alleys into galleries. All of these public art installations have been created by highly skilled local artists, with the exception of “Coming Home,” created by the Sinixt artist Ric Gendron, this is the first piece of indigenous public art commissioned in Revelstoke.

Most recently, entrepreneurial artists, like Big Eddy Glass Works, are creating a “mini” Granville Island experience with their Art Market events.

The difference between then and now? Funding and professional development. All our cultural nonprofits now have paid staff who bring knowledge and expertise to their organizations. They’ve helped to create a welcoming environment for the new creatives, the new makers.

Funding the arts has not been well understood as the investment it truly is. Any funding from the city coffers to any of the local arts non-profits is levered into at least matching funding from outside sources (both provincial and federal). The resulting return on investment for the community means stable and sustainable organizations that provide wonderful cultural programming for residents and visitors. I would hazard a guess that the cultural sector’s contribution to the local economy is significant.

The value of the arts as necessary to a healthy community was most recently highlighted during the pandemic lockdown when many Canadians utilized online arts programming (courses and live streaming) as a way to connect and find some comfort in the forced isolation created by COVID.

Our new OCP (Official Community Plan) mentions a cultural strategy. Completing this work will allow us to understand the impact of arts and culture, the important role it plays in the quality of life in our mountain town, and how it reflects our story.

My new Revelstoke tagline is: come for the adventure, stay for the culture! Let’s welcome the creatives and makers who bring their fresh perspectives to the community dialogue and perhaps creative solutions to community problems.

Culture = the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social groups:

Arts = the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance

This post was published by a member of the Revelstoke Mountaineer staff. Stories published under the staff byline include news briefs, stories that consist mostly of media releases, social media post shares, and stories by contributors with the author's name listed in the body of the story.