Nanaimo artists call for arts centre

NANAIMO – Resident Dennis McMahon presented the idea of an arts centre to Nanaimo city council Monday.

Nanaimo artists want to see an arts centre added to the city landscape.

Several Nanaimo-area artists are calling for an arts centre where they can exhibit, collaborate and host workshops, seeing it as a missing feature in the Harbour City.

The Nanaimo Art Gallery focuses on professional, contemporary artists and doesn’t have space for just anyone to book and exhibit, and while the Nanaimo Arts Council puts out calls for artwork in spaces like the conference centre and Port Theatre, resident Dennis McMahon argues the spaces don’t have gallery quality and are not appropriate exhibition spaces.

McMahon presented to Nanaimo city council on Monday about an arts centre.

He’s never understood why this city is the only one without an art centre for local artists to exhibit, and envisions a one that encompasses not only a gallery but meeting and education rooms and opportunities for artists to work and gather together.

It’s “long overdue, we’ve never had one before,” said McMahon, who sees the south downtown waterfront as an ideal location for an arts centre and plans to bring the idea forward when council consults the public about the property.

He’s not alone in his support for an arts centre.

Margaret Bonneau, artist, said the Nanaimo Art Gallery used to have an art sales and rental program and provide space for artists or the Federation of Canadian Artists to have shows there, but that doesn’t happen anymore because its mandate has changed. No building has replaced what the arts community lost at the gallery, according to Bonneau, who said artists must now rent space if they want to have a show.

With the city wanting to know what new projects the public wants to see and dialogue about downtown revitalization, she sees it as a good time to talk about whether the community misses seeing their artists showcased.

“Because we have so many really wonderful artists, it’s a shame that we are not showing their work, that we don’t actually have a place like Nanaimo Arts Centre to showcase you know professional artists’ work, semi-professional, emerging artists and a place for workshops, a place for meetings…,” she said, later adding that artists currently have to enter shows out of town, like in Qualicum or Sidney.

She wants to see a space artists can rent for a nominal fee and look after.

Artist Claudia Lohmann, who is with the Federation of Canadian Artists, said they have a hard time putting shows together for a reasonable price or finding space. She also said it’s hard to show art because if you’re not famous no galleries will take you.

A centre would make artists’ happy, but she also points to the potential for tourists. She’s on the board of the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery and said it had about 10,000 people walk through last year.

“This would be a place for the cruise ship people to go and see what’s going on in Nanaimo,” she said.

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