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Sooke Fine Art Show 2004

Special feature by guest contributor, Aubin van Berckel

The Sooke Fine Arts Show, one of the largest juried exhibitions in Western Canada, put out its call for entries earlier than usual this year. The SEAPARC Leisure Complex, which has always hosted the venue, is undergoing renovations until the end of July and space is at a premium. Elida Peers, the executive director for Sooke Fine Arts, knows from nineteen years of experience that a lot of space is needed to accommodate the hundreds of individual pieces of art that always pour into the centre for judging prior to the show. This year at the beginning of April, she and three jurors spent an intensive weekend cloistered in the building faced with the difficult task of selecting the artworks that won't be seen publicly until the show opens on July 31st.

The jurors were Carole Sabiston, Martin Segger, and Nicholas Tuele. Carole is a working artist and holds the Order of British Columbia; Martin is the administrator of the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery at the University of Victoria; Nicholas is the past chief curator of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All three of them have served in the past as jurors for the show and all three of them live in the same region as the participating artists (the Capital Regional District, an area that includes the southern tip of Vancouver Island, from Port Renfrew to the Malahat, and the Gulf Islands.) Nonetheless, despite their experience, theirs could not have been an easy task. Of the 1, 266 submissions from 410 different artists, the jury chose 313 artworks to be included in the final exhibition. The 218 artists who have been selected, will not only have the opportunity to offer their work for sale at a huge public event, they will also be vying for some significant prize money. The prizes include: the Myfanwy Spencer Pavelic Award, Best in Show ($1,000); the Sooke Harbour House, Best 3-D ($500); the Audrey St. Denys Johnson, Best Photographic Work ($500); the Sooke Community Arts Council, Best Artwork by a Sooke Artist ($500); as well as a People's Choice ($250), a Children's Choice ($250), and various honourable mentions.

For a history of how such a small community (population, 9,200 according to the last census) has managed to create such a big event as Sooke Fine Arts 2004, we must go back almost twenty-five years to 1981, when the Sooke Regional Museum began mounting monthly showings of works by local artists in a small art gallery adjacent to the museum gift store. By 1984, the Sooke community had proven itself to be very "artist-friendly", and the gallery openings were attracting as many as a hundred people a night. Thus, when the provincial government put out a call to communities for projects celebrating BC's cultural heritage in conjunction with Expo '86, the groundwork was already in place. As Elida explains, the idea for attempting a larger event "grew out of a recognition that the community was ready".

Sooke Fine Arts relies on a host of volunteers and sponsors dedicated to its success. Elida says that the community of Sooke "has taken the project to heart", with the show growing increasingly popular every year. Last year, over 10,000 people visited the SEAPARC Leisure Complex during the first week of August, and this summer, Elida is counting on even greater numbers. She was delighted to note that the official tourism magazine for Vancouver Island has identified Sooke as being "a haven for artists", and she is hopeful that this reputation will continue to develop.

The prospects are good. At the end of April 2004, the mayor of Sooke was invited to the Regional Museum to open a new gallery adjacent to the museum gift shop. (The old gallery had ceased to exist once community energies were focussed on the fine arts show.) Like its predecessor in the Eighties, this new art gallery will provide a venue for local artists to show their work, just as the Sooke Fine Arts shows do, but the advantage will be that the gallery will operate year-round, and not simply for one gloriously intense week in August. Combine this decidedly "artist-friendly" situation with the spectacular natural setting that the community enjoys, and it is easy to see why Sooke deserves to be called an artists' haven.

The show runs from July 31st to August 8th at the SEAPARC Leisure Complex 2168 Phillips Road, Sooke, BC. The hours are from 10am-10pm, except on August 8th when it will close at 8pm. For further details visit http://www.sooke.museum.bc.ca/

Contributed by Aubin van Berckel

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