For the last 20 years the Gabriola Arts Council (GAC) has been advocating on behalf of artists on Gabriola Island, promoting art accessibility and providing arts-related programming.
Those two decades of activity were cause for celebration on Dec. 9, when 150 supporters attended the organization’s 20th anniversary party at the new Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre. GAC executive director Michelle Benjamin said it was a milestone worthy of recognition.
“The Gabriola Arts Council is a very active and engaged organization on Gabriola that brings people together for all kinds of arts and culture programming and we’ve been doing this for 20 years in various forms,” Benjamin said.
“We have a 20-year-old studio tour, we have a 10-year-old theatre festival and an eight-year-old Isle of the Arts Festival … and these all happen because for 20 years we’ve had an amazing group of volunteers, board members and artist members who work to keep arts and culture alive on Gabriola.”
The arts council began as the Festival Gabriola Society in 1997. Benjamin said the group started with a bunch of artists and musicians sitting around a kitchen table who decided, “Why don’t we become a formal organization?” In the beginning the society was responsible for a studio tour and music festival. It became the GAC in 2006.
“Gabriola has many, many, many artists in all forms. Many musicians, many visual artists, theatre performers, writers and 20-something years ago they joined forces,” Benjamin said.
She has been in her role for the past four years. During that time she has seen membership triple to close to 800 people, an increase she attributes to the council’s communication work and community engagement. She has also overseen the implementation of the GAC’s newest program, The Healing Power of Art, an art therapy series for seniors and people living with serious illnesses.
But the biggest, most visible GAC development of recent years has been the donation of the former Gabriola Women’s Institute Hall, one of the island’s old schoolhouses, in 2015. The building has been renamed the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre and at the Dec. 9 party, attendees celebrated the completion of its “pretty intensive renovation and upgrade process.”
“It’s a little building now just beautifully redone and we do many things here,” Benjamin said, including art shows, performances, community meetings, workshops and classes.
“It’s very widely used throughout the community and now it’s beautiful, completely upgraded, all new wiring and new heating system, new lighting system, insulation …and it should last us another 100 years. It’s been a real focus of my time and energy over the last four years as well as just generally overseeing the programs and events that we do.”
Going forward Benjamin said the GAC is considering “reimagining” its theatre festival and building on its music festival, which it was involved in for the first time this year.
But she says these ideas are still in the planning stages. Another upcoming goal is the construction of an administrative building on their existing property. Shovels are expected to strike the earth in the spring.
“Otherwise we just want to keep doing what we’re doing, keep our programs going and keep building on the opportunities in the community for people to be involved hands-on with arts and culture,” she said.