GAC celebrates 20 years, and a new home

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 19 2017

This past Saturday, December 9, the Gabriola Arts Council celebrated twenty years of engaging, enhancing, and inspiring Gabriola’s vital artist community.

It also officially opened the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre, formerly known as the Gabriola Womens’ Institute (WI) Hall.

In September 2014, the Gabriola WI donated the heritage building (one of Gabriola’s original one-room schoolhouses) to the GAC. Originally built in 1928 for $1,200, GAC purchased the building for a ceremonial dollar - which now hangs on the wall of the Arts and Heritage Centre.

A thorough upgrade and renovation project has resulted in a high-quality, multipurpose community and performance space. 

The building, re-named the Gabriola Arts & Heritage Centre, is also the administrative headquarters for GAC.

Cutting the cake: Current GAC President Charlie Cheffins and past-President Kathy Ramsey. Photo courtesy Bill Pope

Begun in 1997 as the Festival Gabriola Society, the Gabriola Arts Council was conceived around a kitchen table by a group of committed community workers and artists. They understood that the arts community on Gabriola could be better served by a formal organization working towards common goals, and so—in April 1997—Festival Gabriola Society was born. The goals were to create events and opportunities for “shared artistic experience” in the community.


Artist and progenitors of the Festival Society Karen Cain reflected on those early days.

“When I opened my studio here in 1992, I planned on continuing to sell my paintings off island. Gabriola was that spacious and beautiful place to create art work, away from the pace and distractions of the city. That began to change when ‘Festival Gabriola’ got underway.

“Through this organized tour, artists began to know each other. We came out from our studios and workshops and began to share our work and ideas. We became a group of creatives, each artist aiding and becoming influenced by other’s work.

“As creatives we helped each other polish up our advertising, websites (very new then) organized our workspace for visitors and felt that we were part of a community. It defined us as a group.”

When Cain organized the tour in 2001 it was fully volunteer. Since becoming Gabriola Arts Council, she says, “we have excellent leadership, a strong board and the added value of volunteers.”

The goals the Festival Society had concerning displaying of artwork, a meeting place and further education areas have been met by the new building.

“Gabriola Arts Council has developed a philosophy and mission statement that not only serves artists but the community at large. I believe that the early beginnings of Festival Gabriola has led to a true, Isle of the Arts, for all of us.”

In 2006, the name was changed to Gabriola Arts Council. For twenty years, the board, the members, and the volunteers have been supporting, presenting, and creating art on Gabriola. 

GAC’s active membership has continued to grow, and has more than tripled in the past five years, with a current list of almost 700 members. The volunteer efforts of the board are now supported by full- and part-time staff, and numerous freelance and contract workers. 

The Thanksgiving Studio Tour has been the key visual arts event on Gabriola for 21 years. One of the most extensive studio tours in the Pacific Northwest, this year the Tour features almost 90 artists at 60+ studios, and attracts hundreds of visitors from Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, and beyond. 

GAC has hosted three additional annual events: Isle of the Arts Festival in April, Gabriola Theatre Festival in August, and this past year the Music Fest in September, while managing a year-round Healing Power of Arts program and a Youth Engagement Initiative. They co-manage a Youth Artist in Residence program while participating in numerous community-wide projects and initiatives.

The Gabriola Museum hosted an exhibit on the artists of Gabriola, and as part of it, asked artists what it is about the “Isle of the Arts” which has inspired, nurtured, supported, and bred so much creativity?

Sheila Norgate, Painter and Performance Artist said, “This island is chock-a-block full of creatives, many of whom have made a conscious choice to live more simply and in tune with not only the natural world, but their own creative muses.”

Writer Dede Gaston said, “Spectacular natural beauty is also a powerful force, not only as subject matter but also in the creative space it helps to create and nurture, and the peace—and peace of mind—that comes from spending time in nature.  

“Nature and art seem to go hand in hand.”

Painter Antoinette Herivel said, “for some, with nature comes solitude—a quiet but prevailing force, a sanctuary in which art can happen, even alongside and within an active community of artists. 

“I appreciate small community life and the quiet to do the work I want to do.”

Frank Moher, Actor and Director said, “The quiet pace encourages productivity … the access to constant, uninterrupted beauty is inspiring, and a solace when the work is hard.

“It’s arguable, but it can be said that art thrives with an appreciative, knowledgeable audience. Gabriola audiences—for theatre, music, visual art, and every other creative endeavour—are enthusiastic, generous, engaged. That magnificent conversation between artist and audience—described as “a circular exchange of energy”—has been another nurturing force for artist development and expression.”

Kathy McIntyre, Musician & Actor said, “Gabriola audiences tend to be positive, smart, curious, enthusiastic, charismatic, open, bold, and charming. … Performing for a Gabriola audience is a uniquely fulfilling and affirming experience.”