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:
Revelstoke may be world-renowned for its mecca of all-season outdoor adventures, but Meghan Porath wants to shine more light on the community’s artistic side.
“I’m excited to bring it up to that level, to say, ‘I know we’ve got adventure, but have you seen the artistic side of this community?'”
Porath took over as executive director of the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre in September 2020. At that time, the centre had been closed for several months due to restrictions on public gatherings brought on by COVID-19.
“My entire first year working here has been quite influenced by the pandemic. In little silver linings, it meant that the programming wasn’t as full as it would be or as much scheduled, so I could really focus and learn the nitty-gritty details without having to expend all this energy into all the different places because this job and this building is very comprehensive. So, it was a bit easier, not that I would say the pandemic was great in any sense at all, but it was nice that I was able to kind of learn and get my bearings.”
Coming from a background in tourism marketing and operational management, Porath admits she struggles with imposter syndrome working for a very large arts operation. It’s a bit surprising to hear, given how Porath has been able to use her experience, working along with the arts society, its board members, staff, and many volunteers, to help the centre navigate its way through the pandemic in creative ways. This has included changing the flow at exhibition openings by having people enter through the side entrance rather than the main doors, creating behind-the-scenes videos with exhibiting artists and using 360-degree photography to recreate the gallery experience for those unable to visit in person.
“It’s something we’re carrying forward because we’re able to now catalogue our gallery exhibitions. You can go and see Zuzana Riha’s show from 2020 on our website. You don’t have to be here,” said Porath. The centre, which is housed in a former RCMP building, also began paying homage to the building’s police roots, displaying exhibition works in the remaining cells, aptly named the “jail house gallery” — something long-time Revelstoke Arts Society Member Ken Talbot says was part of the original vision for the centre.
“Right at the onset, when we first got going here and [the back of the building] was all still solid cell blocks, that was part of our vision at the time, turning that into extra gallery space. We had plans of doing live performances in the back. It was all part of the vision, it just took a little while to come to be,” said Talbot.
How one woman’s painting lessons led to the creation of Revelstoke’s thriving arts scene
The Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre has been housed in its Wilson Street home since 2004, but the evolution of art in Revelstoke began more simply: with painting lessons.
English-born artist Sophie Atkinson spent much of her life exploring the world, travelling to numerous places, including India, Denmark, the United States, and Canada. She would make her way to British Columbia, where she fell in love with the landscape, and in 1949 decided to make her home in Revelstoke. An accomplished painter of still lifes and landscapes, Atkinson began teaching art classes to the local children.
“She originally started teaching kids classes and realized she just didn’t like kids, so she stuck with the adults. She would meet with a lot of the people in town who were artists as well, and they would just paint and create together. Eventually, it turned into the Revelstoke Art Group. It just started very organically,” Porath said. In the late 1960s, Atkinson would return to the United Kingdom, settling in Edinburgh. Her artistic legacy in Revelstoke continued, however, and in the 1970s, members of the arts group began looking for a place to showcase their works, finding space on the top floor of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives’ building.
Porath shared that the art group maintained that gallery space for quite some time until the museum expanded and required the use of the upper floor. Left without a home, the group would find temporary refuge in a now torn-down building located where the Chevron gas station now sits. Talbot recalled:
“Where the previous gas station was, there was a building beside it. At one point, it had been a steak house. The gallery was set up there, very briefly, before the building was going to be demolished to expand the gas station and reconfigure the traffic.
That was always the struggle, not having a home for the art, a place to store the collection and to mount exhibitions and that kind of stuff.”
When the Revelstoke RCMP moved to its current downtown location on Campbell Avenue, members of the arts group put together a proposal to take over the vacant building on Wilson Street. The Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre opened in 2004.
“The Revelstoke Art Group was instrumental in getting things together and putting up the proposal to the city to acquire the building. There’s a lot of just plain work overhead to maintaining the whole facility, and even at that time, the average age of the original art group was moving on. They spent a huge amount of energy just getting things going,” said Talbot.
Deciding they could no longer sustain the sheer amount of work required to maintain the newly opened arts centre, members of the art group decided to incorporate a new society to try and bring in fresh faces, in particular, younger people with more energy to really get things to pick up and go. The Revelstoke Visual Arts Society was incorporated shortly after the visual arts centre’s opening.
Creating a community gathering space while maintaining a focus on supporting artists. Walk into the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre today, and you’ll find homage paid to its organic roots.
There’s a side gallery named in honour of Atkinson, who was a teacher and mentor to many artists who were part of the original art group. Some of those artists are still creating works today, and it’s not uncommon to see their creations on display, both as part of member and solo exhibitions. The centre is also home to a pottery guild, a wood shop, and eight private artist spaces. The centre also hosts after-school programming, kids’ art camps, adult art classes and the city’s banner program.
“That was all part of the original vision. Yes, a home for the art, but then also a big incubation centre where artists can come and work their craft. We’ve had a lot of artists over the years who have developed their skills and then moved to commercial spaces of their own,” said Talbot
The centre is also establishing itself as a community gathering place with a community garden built in partnership with the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative, xeriscape gardens, outdoor tables to sit at, and, more recently, the introduction of an educational beehive. While the added activities and attractions help to draw in more tourists and locals alike, Porath maintains that the core purpose remains in supporting artists.
“That’s what it all comes back to, it’s an art centre. The other day somebody emailed saying they really liked an artist’s work and they wanted to contact them about potentially doing some T-shirt designs. So, of course, we’re going to email the artist, we’re able to be that pivot point between organizations that don’t know how to reach out to artists. I think that’s what this role and this whole centre is all about,” said Porath. “This whole centre was built and created by so many people […] I’ve been allowed to come in and make my own mark on it, which has been incredible. I would like to see more artists coming into the galleries. I think we should be having a pretty good mix of artists local to Revelstoke, local to the Kootenays. I want to bring in more B.C. artists because I want the gallery to be not only for visitors to come see what we can [create], but I also want to show our locals all the different art that’s out there […] I think not only the Revelstoke Visual arts centre is doing that, but the arts council, Luna Fest, all these players are coming to really elevate the art that exists within this town.”
The Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre is located at 320 Wilson Street and is open Wednesday through Friday from 12 p.m.–6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. For more information about the centre, visit revelstokeartgallery.ca.