Weyburn Arts Council innovates during the pandemic

The Weyburn Arts Council (WAC) found new, innovative ways to promote and celebrate art in the community in the past year, while having many of their regular programs and events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization held their annual meeting via Zoom on Thursday evening, and heard from council chair Tasha Hill, and curator Regan Lanning, how the group was able to still keep people engaged in art while being under restrictions.

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Hill took over as the chair in October 2020, and noted in her report that the arts council was challenged to adapt and adjust just as everyone else has.

“Artists are renowned for being solitary and tend to work on their own, but our council thrives on social interaction. These activities were thwarted in the midst of a global pandemic, but rather than accept defeat, the Weyburn Arts Council did what we do best — we innovated,” said Hill, noting since the community couldn’t come to the art (or art-related events), they took the art to the community.

Some of the ways they innovated was with a “maker of the month” program featuring one artist each month, the walking gallery installed along First Avenue across from the Weyburn hospital, and a weekly “Craft with WAC” series, with a different craft activity shown each week with a live demo via Facebook.

Culture Days also was done virtually, with a series of videos of artists, such as how to use a potter’s wheel or how to make an origami project, plus there was a virtual tour of the James Weir People’s Choice exhibit.

“When I look at this list, I’m astounded at the ingenuity of this arts council. So much hard work and time was dedicated to these events to bring art to our community,” she said.

The parameters for the Millie Coghill Fine Arts Award was expanded, and in 2020 there were three recipients named, she added.

“With the successes have come a few disappointments,” said Hill, pointing out their book project for showcasing the City of Weyburn’s Permanent Art Collection had to be postponed due to the costs and the timing of the pandemic, which nullified their ability to line up sponsors.

She said the ArtsVest funding they received for this project is being held in an account until they are able to resume putting it together.

Another disappointment was the community mural, which was to showcase the mural design competition winner, was put off due to COVID to this year, with the hope it will be completed by this summer.

The arts council members are excited for the prospect of new programs and a new gallery space when the Credit Union Spark Centre opens up later this year, she said, and it should provide more opportunities for the arts council and the curator to work together.

The out-going treasurer, Elizabeth Lambe, reported that the finances took a bit of a hit by having events cancelled due to the pandemic.

The community builder account went from $5,954 in 2019 to $2,850 in 2020. The premier investment account for the Millie Coghill Fine Arts Award grew, with donations from anonymous donors, from $3,571 to $4,752.

Fundraising totaled $6,441 in 2019, and went down to $2,287 in 2020, but Lambe pointed out this occurred because members worked hard to get grants and donations for the arts council, as the income from cancelled events was gone.

In her report, Lanning noted the events that were held during 2020, such as the People’s Choice exhibition prior to the pandemic, and the Gifted art sale which was done online.

Lanning noted that 78 per cent of the artists who took part believe it was worth their time to be involved, and 77 per cent said they would take part again if the event is held. In addition, 100 per cent of respondents were impressed with the technological support they were given for the online event.

For one of the craft activities offered in 2020, an origami project, Lanning had 100 kits prepared, and 66 of the kits were used, many of which she delivered to people’s mailboxes, and they then followed an online video demonstration.

A collaborative mural was completed, using a photograph by John Woodward, and 16 artists took part in painting the mural panels which were then assembled by members of the arts council at City Hall, and a video was done and posted on the WAC’s YouTube channel.

With the Credit Union Spark Centre, Lanning noted that construction is nearly completed, and there are plans to start moving in within a couple of weeks and set up in the facility, which will include a new pottery studio, a newer larger office for Lanning, a larger gallery space, program rooms, and a new permanent storage space for the City’s Permanent Art Collection.

The mural contest, which was won by artist Jonnae Haupstein, will see a completion this year, said Lanning. If restrictions are still in place this summer, as she expects they will be, the directors of the arts council will paint it themselves “in a socially-distant manner”.

The “Craft with WAC” series saw a total of 11 projects and videos done over the summer, covering activities like making bird houses or making sidewalk chalk art.

The Walking Gallery was a success, she added, with WAC directors providing the first 11 pieces along First Avenue, and from May 1 to October there were 25 art pieces installed altogether for the public to enjoy.

The Signal Hill Arts Centre officially shut their doors on Aug. 4, 2020, after a calamitous flooding in January, closure for repairs, and then the sale of the building over the summer.

The City’s Permanent Art Collection was photographed over the summer, and around 20 new pieces have been added, and it will have a new home in the new Spark Centre, which will open in September, along with the new elementary school.

The executive for the next year will see Hill continue as the chair, with vice-chair Carol Reeve, new treasurer Lois Adam, and Linda Aitken will continue as secretary.