BOW VALLEY – The Bow Valley is flush with culture.
From Banff to Lake Louise and Canmore to Kananaskis, there are dozens of galleries and museums showcasing talented artists and history from across the country.
And after the province reopened on July 1 from public health restrictions and tourists returned en masse to the region, the majority of the galleries and museums are opening or have already unlocked their doors again to the public.
For many, the impact of the pandemic has been real as it meant longterm closures, decline in memberships and more expenses for cleaning.
The Canmore Art Guild – which is located in Elevation Place – saw a drop in membership but is hopeful for a return.
“We hope we can continue as it was before,” said Claudia Schellenberg, who’s starting a two-year position as the senior gallery director. “We are hoping for some more members that would come up and be part of the guild. … It’s a pretty small group right now.”
Prior to the pandemic, she said the guild had around 150 members but are now at a little more than 30.
The non-profit gallery is open once again on Aug. 5 and will have a feature artist for September and October followed by a 3D show in November. The popular Christmas show is planned for December.
The guild was created in 1980 to help artists in the valley with their creativity and give opportunities to showcase their talent to the public.
The Canmore Museum reopened to the public on June 26, but it has also embraced a new digital model that is aiming to enhance visitor experience.
A number of digital initiatives were launched earlier this month that allow programming to be accessible any day or hour of the year.
“That’s the value of going virtual. … It provides different ways to access our programming,” said Ron Ulrich, the Canmore Museum executive director. “This platform becomes a place for all that type of digital or live streaming to happen. We can produce high quality educational content.”
Among the programs are Stories That Matter that will have videos of important aspects of Canmore’s history. The Canmore Museum@School will help with school education, while Canmore Museum@Home will make digital streaming services available to members anywhere with an internet connection.
The popular Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies opened once again on July 15. After being closed to the public for eight months, staff continued to work at creating new exhibits and programming.
A new exhibit called, Mansions to Mountains: In Conversation with Catharine Whyte, will feature videos and objects to highlight her life. The archives reading room will also show swimming fun and weird bathing suits of visitors to Banff, while the recognizing relations initiative will have a dedicated area to spotlight the ongoing efforts of Truth and Reconciliation with the Stoney Nakoda.
A greater emphasis will also be on outside the museum with an art and geology walking tour, a mobile museum walks app for self-guided tours for 19 stops in Banff and the reinstallation of the sitting wind and the cultural trade route mural that celebrates Indigenous culture in the valley.
“We are so eager to invite guests back to experience The Whyte Museum. At its heart, the museum is a gathering place where visitors can learn more about Banff’s evolving history, peoples, culture and environment,” said Donna Livingstone, the executive director of The Whyte Museum, in a media release. “We’ve worked hard to curate new indoor and outdoor experiences for anyone looking to deepen their connection to nature.”
At artsPlace, though the lockdowns saw lengthy shutdowns to its physical building, it was able to innovate to reach people and help artists.
They focused on video talks, online exhibitions and 3D tours and now that people have got a taste of it, they have no intention of taking them away.
“It was very clear the innovation we had piloted during the closure very much fed into our vibrancy as an art gallery now that we’re open,” Nicole Fougère, the programs director, said.
“Even though the venue has been closed, it’s continued to be a creative place but just online. We’ve had a very vibrant work year even though the physical building has been closed.”
Fougère said popular exhibitions – such as Stories of Resilience and the Curbside Museum TREX exhibition – have generated additional buzz to artsPlace by having video elements that can reach audiences not in Canmore.
She noted how artsPlace was also able to accommodate to audiences through 3D tours via Zoom.
“It’s a bit like artsPlace the video game,” she said with a laugh. “Some people enjoy it and for some it’s a learning curve.
“If we were open certain residents would’ve seen it, but maybe not. Maybe because of the innovation it provided members of the community to be seen and heard and featured in an exhibition that we wouldn’t have thought of before.”
The gallery is one of the more popular ones in the Bow Valley and often sees artists aim to get space, but it also means faster turnaround times to help highlight as many artists as possible.
With virtual, it allows the exhibits to remain for longer periods to be enjoyed by people.
“Technology helps prolong the lifespan of an exhibition,” Fougère said. “ArtsPlace is a really coveted gallery space and tons of people want to exhibit here. We try to keep our exhibitions short to allow the maximum amount of exhibitions in a calendar year. It may only be six weeks, but we keep our 3D tours up for at least six months.”