I hadn’t originally planned to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery, but I’m glad I did. A friend who lives in Vancouver turned out to be working there the Sunday afternoon I was planning to meet him for lunch, and once I’d come by the gallery, my curiosity was piqued. I later toured the museum, coming away with a much better sense of the local art scene as well as some of British Columbia’s most important artists.
"You’ll recognize the art gallery - it’s an old courthouse used a lot as a set for X-files," my friend said while giving me directions. Indeed, the building looked vaguely familiar, but what caught my attention was vast Robson Square just across from the gallery. Almost deserted on a Sunday afternoon, this public green-space with cascading waterfalls is surrounded by glass buildings reflecting some of the older buildings nearby.
I blanched at the gallery’s admission price, C$15, but I’d say it’s worth it if patrons take full advantage of what the museum offers. There are dance and music performances, public lectures, and other arts-related events, as well as a reference library open to the public and an art-for-rent program. The gallery takes an active role in encouraging visitors to get involved with the artistic process. It truly is a public-spirited gallery.
I had the good fortune to visit on one of the gallery’s monthly SuperSundays, held on the third Sunday of each month. Geared especially towards families with children, a SuperSunday will appeal to adults as well. All throughout the gallery, baskets of drawing, painting, and collage materials were set near benches and tables so that visitors could create their own art. A number of people were sitting throughout the museum, quietly sketching or painting. Several groups of children were completely absorbed in projects in the rotunda area, weaving bright strips of paper and cutting fanciful shapes for collages.
I was tempted to join in when I saw materials set out near a forest painting by Emily Carr, one of B.C.’s best-known artists. The dark, brooding quality of the painting stirred something in me, but a sudden fear of exposing my inadequacies overcame me, squashing my desire to sketch swirling shapes in response to the painting. I also had my little list of things I wanted to do that afternoon and drawing wasn’t on it.
Now, looking back, I’m ashamed of having given in to such a silly qualm and regret that I didn’t spend an hour or so doing something more meaningful than dashing through the museum in search of art to enjoy. In the words of Taras Grescoe, "To stop being a tourist, sometimes all you have to do is start standing still."
Indeed, as I leave the gallery, I take the following words stenciled on the ceiling above the escalator as a personal admonishment: