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From crisis to creativity: Art exhibit inspired by COVID-19

What: Challenge Crisis with Creativity Where: Gage Gallery Arts Collective, 2031 Oak Bay Ave.
Artist Gabriela Hirt, left, and curator Ashley Riddett with an exhibit of artwork inspired by COVID-19 at Gage Gallery Arts Collective at 2031 Oak Bay Ave. The exhibition runs until June 27 and is free to view.

What: Challenge Crisis with Creativity
Where: Gage Gallery Arts Collective, 2031 Oak Bay Ave.
When: June 23-27
Admission: Free (donations will be accepted)

An online showcase of local art inspired by COVID-19 will be given a second lease on life when the Gage Gallery Arts Collective re-opens the doors to its Oak Bay Avenue gallery today.

Challenge Crisis With Creativity got underway in April as an online-only showcase, after plans for a traditional exhibit in March were scuttled due the city-wide shutdown.

Organizers were overwhelmed by response to the initiative, which was spread over 11 weeks. More than 300 pieces were created by 115 local artists, who took thematic cues from the gallery each week — from racism to thankfulness, based on what was happening at that time.

The project was a joint venture by the non-profit gallery and Ashley Riddett, who curated the exhibit with her fellow graduate students in the art history and visual studies program at the University of Victoria.

“The goal was to make people feel better and give them an outlet for their feelings,” said local artist Gabriela Hirt, a member of the collective that runs the gallery.

“But we had no idea if the [online gallery] would fly. It was interesting to find out that really happened. It seems like that goal was really achieved.”

The collective of artists behind the non-profit society has picked 47 pieces inspired by the crisis to display on the gallery walls through June 27, while the remainder of submissions created during the pandemic will be shown on a video slideshow running on a loop inside the gallery.

The artwork will be displayed thematically.

“The artists can come in and see the pieces, so everyone is included,” Hirt said. “This is a community exhibit, so we wanted to showcase everyone that participated.”

The gallery will be open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day during the exhibit, but only a limited number of visitors will be given access at one time. Physical distancing will be required, and guests will have to wear a mask before entering, Hirt said.

Stories by each artist will accompany their work. “I’m quite excited about this extra bit,” Hirt said.

“It’s where you’ll read the stories about who the artists are behind each piece and what it meant to them.”

Most of the artwork involves photography, oil, collage, pencil and watercolour, though knitting from one artist will be on display, Hirt said.

Participants range in age as well — 77-year-old artist David Trace made a number of stained-glass hearts, a symbol of support for frontline workers, in tandem with his eight-year-old grandson, Jonathan, a Grade 3 student.

Francine Klysen, who is participating, has a degree in visual arts from UVic but has not been able to fully pursue a career in art as her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, is in long-term care at Oak Bay Kiwanis Pavilion.

Challenge Crisis With Creativity gave her an opportunity to put what she learned in school into practice.

She has not been able to see her husband for 13 weeks, but has sold eight paintings inspired by the project, profits from which she donated back to Kiwanis Pavillion.

“I’ve never sold a single painting before,” Klysen said, noting that it was her husband who encouraged her to paint when she met him 37 years ago. “Now, I’m painting every day.”