Bringing Art to the Community

By Katie Smith

When it comes to the art scene on PEI, one artist stands out in terms of her vision, work-ethic, and creativity; an artist who continues to strive for a thriving arts community that can be enjoyed by all.
Contemporary and visual artist Becka Viau was recently named along with 22 women across the country as a bold visionary for the work she’s done for her community. The selected women will present their hopes and plans for Canada’s future in a vision paper that will be published in an anthology. This fall they will meet in Charlottetown for A Bold Vision conference, much like the 23 men did 150 years ago at the Charlottetown Conference when their vision led to the formation of Canada.
Viau said this honour means a lot to her.
“As someone who works diligently behind the scenes, for and with the artistic community on PEI, this honour will give me a chance to bring some of the ideas, morals and passions that drive my work,” she said. “This is a privilege that not many get. It will also be amazing to collaborate with the other 22 visionaries to create the national vision.”

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Becka Viau. Submitted photo.

Allison Cooke, who sits on the board of the Women’s Network PEI, nominated Viau as a Bold Visionary because she always puts her community first and is a natural leader and advocate for the community through both her artwork and public service.
“Becka is paving the way for future generations on PEI by opening conversations and getting people to question the world around them. It is through these conversations, curiosities and debates that she feels positive change can happen.”
Viau, who received her Masters of Fine Arts degree in 2013 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, has worked as a curator, educator and coordinator of art collectives. She believes art should be accessible to everyone, and that’s what she aims for in her work.
“You can talk about all sorts of complex and important things, but if people don’t find it accessible to them, no one will consider it, then what is the point? Sure, I do make art that is complex, conceptual and hopefully thought-provoking, but my work has to be reachable in some way by the general, non-art consumer.”
Art is about getting people talking, she said.
“(It) starts conversation, dialogue. And unless you can engage with the audience, no one will talk about it, about how it impacted them or didn’t’ impact them. I make art about the world around me, about my own experiences and how they relate to the world.”
One of her recent projects was a row of hay bales set up outside of the Confederation Centre of the Arts, a curated piece that was part of the Art Gallery’s exhibition, Somewheres, which reflects the multiplicity and uncertain origin of the Maritime identity, and featured 13 artists from the region.

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Photo by Becka Viau

The Gallery’s curator, Pan Wendt, said Viau is a unique artist who energizes the art community on the Island.
“I give Becka a lot of credit for leading and challenging young artists in PEI. Her intensity, intelligence, creativity – they’re all important, but also the way she kind of demonstrated a new model for what it means to be an artist here. (She is) an activist, an organizer, a public thinker.”
Wendt works with Viau on various art projects around the city, such as the one-day annual summer arts festival, Art in the Open. The festival is put on by the not-for-profit, artist-run centre Viau started a few years back, called this town is small.
Wendt said he recently nominated Viau for the Sobey Art Award – Canada’s leading award for contemporary Canadian art given each year to an artist aged 40 or under.
“I nominated her for the Sobey because she continues to make great work and I see her as having long-term impact as a visual artist.”
After she finished her Masters program, Viau returned to the Island, the place she’s called home for most of her life. The work she’s done since her return brings hope to other Island artists, such as Monica Lacey.
Lacey said it was encouraging to know Viau was back on the Island getting the art community going.
“She really acted as a catalyst to bring together a contemporary art community in Charlottetown, and brought to the table the kind of perseverance and dedication that is crucial for sustaining new projects,” she said. “The work that she’s done has made it possible for me and other artists to return to PEI and feel we have support, that we have a community and that there are opportunities here.”
Belfast resident and textile artist Rilla Marshall agrees.
“I feel Becka has re-invigorated the visual arts community of Charlottetown through her dedication, thoughtfulness and hard work with this town is small and the larger arts community on PEI. She is committed to creating viable opportunities for contemporary artists to showcase their work on PEI while opening up dialogues with other arts communities and organizations in Atlantic Canada.”
Viau is currently sending one of her projects on tour through the north eastern United States and the Atlantic provinces. The exhibition, Acadie Mythique, showcases works from artists spanning from Quebec and Maine and into the Atlantic provinces.
She is also about to launch a summer project called Agrarian Monuments which involves living installations/sculptures in hay fields across rural PEI.
Agrarian Monuments is part of the PEI Council of the Arts Sesquicentennial Public Art Commissions, funded by the PEI 2014 fund.
To find out more about the work Viau is doing, visit her website at beckaviau.com.

[Published in G! Magazine – Link no longer works]

Mapping the Island’s shorelines

By Katie Smith

The Island’s landscape is in a constant state of change. While it’s hard to see this change from one day to the next, it become quite obvious when comparing current maps of Prince Edward Island to ones from last century.

Textile artist and hand weaver Rilla Marshall focuses much of her weaving practice around exploring and mapping changes to Atlantic Canada’s shorelines.

The NSCAD graduate is specifically interested in the potential changes that might come as a result of how Islanders choose to develop the shorelines. She is currently working with researchers at UPEI collecting data that can predict the potential rise in the sea level around Victoria Park in Charlottetown.

The research tools are able to predict what the area might look like in 90 years from now, she said last month at her home in Belfast – a brightly lit, century-old renovated school house where she also runs her textile business, Marshall Arts.

“My work has always been referring back to the landscape,” she said. “I want to take this idea of plotting the changes to the shoreline using mapping and actually apply that to the (physical) landscape around Victoria Park.”

She explained how she will use stakes and ropes to physically show what the shoreline might look like in the future.

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Rilla Marshall, photo credit unknown.

Marshall’s project will be curated by Pan Wendt of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and featured this summer during Art in the Open’s main event taking place in Charlottetown August 23 from 4 p.m. to midnight.

“Rilla Marshall’s project is a great example of how visual art can comment powerfully on the issues facing us,” Wendt said.

Marshall said one-day art festivals such as this one have very much become a platform for contemporary artists to show their work.

“Art in the the Open is another way to not only get artwork out there, but for it to be seen by people who may never have walked into a gallery in their life,” she said.

With events like the festival’s March of the Crows parade, it’s very much about community involvement, she explained.

“It’s also about using art as a catalyst to community-building. It’s like Charlottetown becomes a completely different place, and people are experiencing art in a new and dynamic way,” she said. “It also shows what can be done with a public space.”

Becka Viau, the festival’s co-coordinator, said she is excited for Marshall to be involved once again this year.

“Her work brings a delicate yet very poignant perspective on place in time.”

For more information about Art in the Open visit artintheopenpei.com.

[Here’s the link to the published article: http://www.buzzon.com/index.php/news-articles/arts/20870-mapping-the-shorelines%5D