Langley City gallery shuts early

A year of change lies ahead for the Langley Arts Council.

This week marks the departure of the current executive director, the closure of the art gallery, and the pending election of an almost completely new slate of directors.

The organization is holding its 46th annual general meeting on Monday, Oct. 6 and it will be the last chance for many to see and say goodbye to the art gallery and offices that have been home to LAC for the past two years.

But it’s about much more than just a change of location, it’s hopefully a chance for the organization to do some serious strategizing and refocusing, said outgoing executive director Harmony Thiessen.

The old Coast Capital credit union building in Langley City was sold earlier this year, and will soon become home of the Penny Pinchers thrift store operated by the Langley Hospital Auxiliary.

LAC has until Dec. 15 to vacate, and was originally planning to close the gallery down at the end of October.

But without the funds to keep a full-time staff member on hand to oversee the clear out the facilities through to the end of October, Thiessen said it was felt it would be too taxing a burden to place on volunteers.

So late last week, the decision was made shut down the gallery sooner, rather than later.

While the doors are now locked to the public as of the end of September, Thiessen said it will be reopened a few days over the next month or so – for some special events, including Monday’s AGM and a one-night show in November for the special Fire & Art exhibition.

As for the future of the organization, she said that will be left to the new board of directors, which Thiessen said, will likely include a number of younger people (under the age of 25) who have offered to let their names stand to better help the arts council transform into an organization for the future.

The annual general meeting happens Monday, Oct. 6, , from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the LAC centre on the one-way section of Fraser Highway. There are three of eight existing board members returning. There are five new positions.

For more information about the organization, people can visit their website at www.langleyarts.org.

What lies ahead?

In the past 13 months, Thiessen was tasked with bringing the LAC out into the public, in what she calls a big way.

“I think in that short period of time, I’ve done quite a bit,” she said, noting that during that time, the arts council membership has expanded 80 per cent to 155 individuals members and 19 member groups.

But she’s admittedly only scrapped the surface of what has to happen in laying a new foundation from which the arts organization can grow.

“Now the challenge is relevance,” Thiessen said. “We’re coming to a time where the council must understand what the needs of the members are and what the needs of the community are… 

“Honestly, if it’s to be completely relevant in our community, we need to have it address more than just the people over 50,” she added, anxious to see the arts council’s efforts devoted to expanding the LAC beyond supporting just the traditional visual arts, but rather encompass all types of artists from every possible genre and generation.

The idea being tossed around now, she said, will be to take on a smaller office space and devote a lot of the new directors’ time and effort planning.

It’s been suggested that the board divide the community into its main eight neighbourhoods of Langley and focus on helping each of those areas and support the arts within these communities – in whatever form that takes – and to really connect with all types of artists in Langley to better understand their needs – now and into the future.

To be successful, Thiessen said, arts events are moving away from the traditional large events in huge venues and moving into smaller, neighbourhood initiatives.

That’s where LAC has to be, if it has any hope of changing from a glorified artist guild to an advocacy agency working to ensure arts and culture is ingrained in every aspect of the community, she added.

“Members have to be the leaders of this organization,” Thiessen suggested. “The whole thinking must turn around from a hierarchical model to much more of a modern network model.”

Optimistic about the future of the LAC, she said the council needs to be made up of creative leaders willing to look outside the norm, and invite young people to help define the future of arts and culture in this community.

Thiessen will remain on with LAC on a two-month contract basis to specifically wrap up the sales and disbursement of the John Carr Collection.

This is a collection of about 1,500 paintings that were collected by late Burnaby firefighter John Carr and later donated by his widow to the Firefighters Burn Fund and LAC.

Much of Carr’s collection was being sold off for $100 and $200 each this summer as part of the Fire & Art drive, with the money being divided between the two groups.

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