An art centre’s new approach to get people appreciating local art after shutting its doors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic two months ago is getting a lot of attention.
When the Leighton Art Centre launched its Juried Members Show virtual exhibition the last weekend of April, it had more than 2,000 online views compared to the typical 100 visitors on opening weekend, said Lindsay Corbet, manager of exhibitions, events and volunteers.
“Because the centre is closed to visitors due to the pandemic, we had to adjust how we were going to display our annual Juried Members Show,” she said. “We figured since everyone was basically moving to online we thought we’d give it a try.”
Rather than have artists submit their pieces to the gallery for judging, they were required to send them electronically, Corbet said.
“Usually we have judges come and curate and select the artwork, but instead we had to download all of the images and send a giant file of all 365 pieces to the judges,” she said.
Showcasing the pieces electronically, rather than in the gallery, presented no space limitations and allowed more pieces to be showcased than ever before. Corbet said of the 365 submissions from 133 artists, 115 pieces were selected among 86 artists.
Each piece is displayed in an online PDF catalogue that can be viewed at the centre’s website until June 7.
“It’s had great feedback and the artists have been extremely happy with how it looks and the response that we’re getting from it,” she said. “A lot of people who’ve never been to the Leighton Art Centre are buying pieces. We’re considering a physical and virtual show next year to reach more people.”
Okotoks artist Annette Resler, who’s had her paintings showcased in the Juried Members Art Show six times, is enjoying the new format.
“This pandemic is causing everyone to think in new and creative ways to keep people connected and I would consider this one of the silver linings as a new way of showcasing art,” she said. “It was beautifully done. People can enjoy it from their homes.”
Although Resler would prefer people view the pieces in the gallery setting, she said it’s a great alternative considering the current circumstances.
“These are unprecedented times,” she said. “Everybody is working hard to stay connected in so many different ways.”
Of the three pieces Resler submitted to judges, Rushing - an oil painting on birch of rushing water - was selected.
“I love painting water as a subject so I went through a bunch of my old photographs,” she said. “I had taken quite a few of the rushing water at Cameron Creek and some of the shots inspired me to want to paint a close-up of the action of the water foaming and spraying. It’s a different challenge to paint something that was from a real subject, but in somewhat of an abstract way.”
This year is the first that artist Heather Thomas submitted work to the Juried Members Show, and the new resident to Okotoks is enjoying the electronic format.
“It’s a great way to be able to have artists’ work displayed where you wouldn’t normally see it displayed,” she said. “People who aren’t mobile or can’t get out to the centre can see it online and be a part of the experience. I can also share that document with my family in the states and other parts of Alberta. It’s fantastic because it’s so accessible to so many more people.”
Of the three pieces Thomas submitted, judges selected Cosmic Dancer, a mixed media abstract piece, which sold last weekend.
“There was lots of people interested in it before I submitted it to the Leighton Art Centre so I would have sold it regardless,” she said. “I’m just happy that it supports the art centre.”
Thomas, who runs Birdsong Studio & Healing Centre on Elma Street with her husband Russell, said the pandemic has given her more time to work on her art.
“I’ve been painting every day in the studio,” she said. “I have always been artistic and creative and I’ve just started painting in the last couple of years consistently.”
The closure of the Leighton Art Centre in mid-March has wreaked havoc on the centre’s 2020 exhibition schedule and resulted in the cancellation of its popular Clothesline Festival & Art Sale in June.
Corbett said staff are considering reopening the centre on May 14.
To view the Juried Members Show and to learn about upcoming exhibitions at the Leighton Art Centre visit http://www2.leightoncentre.org/
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