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Open Space Arts Society celebrates 50 years with two Indigenous exhibits

While there are hundreds of non-commercial, artist-run spaces in Canada today, the Open Space Art Gallery, founded in 1972, was one of the first in the country.
Elder in Residence Gerry Ambers, left, and Doug Jarvis in the Tide Lines exhibit at the Open Space Art Gallery. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Open Space Arts Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary with one exhibit that honours the past and another emphasizing the works of emerging Indigenous artists.

While there are hundreds of non-commercial, artist-run spaces in Canada today, the Open Space Art Gallery, founded in 1972, was one of the first in the country.

“We have low barriers for our emerging artists,” said Doug Jarvis, executive director of the society. “Over the years we have presented contemporary visual arts, music, writing, media arts and more.”

One exhibit is Tidelines, an archival exhibition curated by Gerry Ambers, the gallery’s Elder in Residence, in collaboration with colleagues who were members of the Native Alliance for Red Power in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the other is The Stories We Belong To.

“Tide Lines and The Stories We Belong To are an expression of the stories that would not have a space without galleries like Open Space,” said Ambers. “The board and staff at Open Space have worked hard at creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for Indigenous artists and other diverse groups. As the Elder in Residence I can attest to the wholehearted support that Open Space offers to our diverse community of artists.”

The Tidelines exhibit highlights a group of elder artist activists from this time period who were active in the Native Alliance for Red Power during the 1960s and 1970s. Tide Lines focuses on the intersections of Indigenous art and activism — and how these two realms continue to influence each other.

A visual timeline, the backbone of the exhibition, contains photographs, notes, newspaper clippings, video and ephemera contributed by the participants.

The exhibit highlights the political and artistic contributions from this cohort for current and future generations to learn from.

In the other exhibit, young Indigenous artists get an opportunity to tell their own stories in a supportive and culturally safe environment at The Stories We Belong To, a group exhibition put on by the participants in the Indigenous Emerging Artist Program, in collaboration with the Tah’lum Indigenous Artists Collective.

The program was founded as a hands-on program to nurture, mentor and assist in the development of emerging Indigenous artists’ professional and creative practices.

The program is open to those with Indigenous ancestry between the ages of 15 to 30. Participants explore a wide range of artistic practices and are partnered with established Indigenous artists through a series of workshops developed by mentors specifically for the group.

Mentors include Eli Hirtle, Open Space’s curator, Indigenous and contemporary art, Gerry Ambers, Elder in Residence, Tyrone Elliott, Elder Support, Jesse Campbell, administrator, Tah’lum Indigenous Artists Collective, and other guest artists and cultural practitioners.

“Thanks to funding for four levels of government, as well as an endowment with the Victoria Foundation, we are able to allow artists the spirit of exploration,” said Jarvis. “There is a different motivation when art is non-commercial. Nobody is going to ask you: ‘How are you going to sell this?’”