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Mollie Kaye

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  1. January 2018 Could a victim-centred approach be a better fit in cases of sexual harassment and assault? TRUMP, WEINSTEIN, MOORE, FRANKEN, THE RCMP…Every hour, it seems, more are added to a dizzying list. But remember the 2014 Dalhousie Dental School case, where “gentlemen” students waxed horrific on Facebook about their over-the-top, sexually violent predilections? The men were initially suspended. Then some of the female students referenced in those ghastly posts said they preferred a restorative justice process—an approach that involves facilitated dialogues and co-created, positive-action agreements—rather than university sanctions or criminal indictments. The media was outraged. Talking heads rolled. How dare these women demand some namby-pamby, non-punitive process, when the overwhelming public consensus was that the offenders must be expelled? Oh, the irony. Women finally come forward to break their silence around the near-ubiquitous sexualized aggression woven into our workplaces, only to be silenced again in a “justice” where “authorities” dole out punishments. Victims’ needs and input are not just ignored, but derided: “Ladies, these men have offended you. Now step aside, and let Law and Order restore your honour and make you safe. Your offending male classmates will not get a wink and a nudge; they will be destroyed for their transgressions. This is how we will make things better for you—it’s fear of punishment that prevents bad behaviour.” Except it doesn’t actually work that way. Even the death penalty does nothing to deter violent crime. A Public Safety Canada study concluded that “compared to community sanctions, imprisonment was associated with an increase in recidivism…longer sentences were associated with higher recidivism rates.” So why are we in such a rush to punish—to lock people away, fire them from their jobs, and put them on registries—especially in cases where sexualized aggression is involved? Shouldn’t we listen to victims, and support what they think should happen next? I SPEAK WITH A RESTORATIVE DIALOGUE FACILITATOR in Victoria who has worked on sexual assault cases (and for confidentiality reasons, declines to be identified). She tells me about a man who had committed rape. His lack of empathy was noticeable, but so was the fact that he genuinely didn’t understand sexual assault. The restorative justice process transformed his attitudes: “He was just floored by what women have gone through…how this plays into the bigger social fabric. He had never learned any of that. [He wondered] ‘Why don’t they teach this to us in schools? Why didn’t anyone teach us about consent? This is probably the most important thing I will learn in my life, and I didn’t know it.’” The facilitator tells me, “He made drastic changes in his life…It was really impressive to see him transform—in his thinking, in his behaviour, in his demeanour…the person who walked [in] a year later was not the same person. It was phenomenal.” In certain cases, the facilitator notes, “whatever things [offenders] have gone through in their own lives, they have closed themselves off. It is absolutely possible to help those people open up again and start feeling and start empathizing, and I’ve seen that happen.” At Restorative Justice Victoria, I ask Complex Case Manager Jessica Rourke if she believes restorative approaches can be successfully applied to local sexual harassment or violence cases. (Disclosure: I am a volunteer facilitator at Restorative Justice Victoria, though like other volunteers I am not insured to handle such cases there). She says “Yes,” and that from her perspective, “Most sexual assault victims want two things: for the offender to know how extensive the negative impact of their behaviour was, and to walk out of there feeling confident that he is not going to do this again, that he is not going to [harm] someone else.” But, she asks, “how are you going to know that? What do you need to feel [confident about] that—what does that look like for you?” Restorative dialogues, when offered, she says, answer those needs and questions, and are what many victims say will bring them a sense of safety, healing, respect and hope. So why do we reflexively insist on punishing offenders, without victim input? If it’s agreed that the long-term solution to sexual aggression is for men to become more empathetic and self-aware, are we serving that goal by limiting victims’ recourse to only the punitive courts or the shaming media? To develop empathy, offending men must hear from the women who have been affected by their actions, and understand the devastating impact they’ve had. Rourke has observed that the criminal justice system isn’t optimal for this: “There’s no room for ‘could you learn from this and change? Could you become a better person? Could you repair some of the harm you have caused?’” The victim, too, is sidelined. “The State is now the victim, it’s the State vs the Offender—your experience is now taken away from you…you’re a spectator.” The offending Dalhousie dental students expressed gratitude for their experience in the restorative justice dialogue with their female classmates. They wrote, “We learned that saying sorry is too easy. Being sorry, we have come to see, is much harder.” They realized that it was not only their female classmates, but future patients and the larger community who were traumatized, and added, “We deeply regret if this has made even one person more reluctant or afraid to access the oral health care they need and deserve.” Though university sanction guidelines called for expulsion of the men, the women in the Dalhousie dental class who participated in the restorative justice process were always adamant in their desire to graduate alongside their male classmates. “We are a part of a generation in which inappropriate sexualization is more common and widespread than ever before and we have become used to this,” they wrote. “More than [simply accepting the male students’ apology], though, we have seen the men learn why they are sorry, and what that requires of them.” THE TSUNAMI OF REVELATIONS IN THE MEDIA has helped illuminate both the nature and extent of sexual harassment. In Canada, we learn, $100 million is being set aside for a possible 20,000 harassment claims within the RCMP. Over 30 percent of Canadians surveyed in a recent federal government report say they have experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those, 94 percent are women. An Insights West poll, released December 6, found that 50 percent of Canadian working women experienced some amount of sexual harassment in the workplace—though more than 40 percent of victims felt they should “handle it on their own” rather than report the behaviour, fearing for their jobs and seeing no palatable choice for meaningful resolution within the current landscape of options. In a December 5th New York Times article by Nellie Bowles, businesswomen were asked about the widespread revelations of power abuses, and the sometimes swift and draconian consequences meted out to the offenders—without due process or dialogue with their victims. Most agreed that “a reckoning for the sexual misdeeds of men in the workplace was a long time coming. But ask the question ‘What do we do about it?’ and the answer has become as wide ranging, nuanced and intensely personal as the offenses themselves…Most of all, many women are wrestling with how this reckoning will work in practice: Who is the judge, who is the jury and what evidence is admissible.” Gillian Lindquist, executive director of Restorative Justice Victoria, agrees there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, punitive approach that can be applied meaningfully in sexual aggression and harassment cases, especially if significant time has passed since the incident. She feels more could be done to bring nuance into deciding consequences such as firings or being placed on a registry. “If you committed this assault 15 years ago, it has a huge impact, but have you changed? There hasn’t been any discussion of this. It’s just, ‘Boom, you’re gone.’ Maybe some of the women do want that, but maybe some of them don’t. I haven’t heard of a single case where someone has asked them.” Most of us would agree that victims’ needs and desires should be integral in justice outcomes. Research tells us that perpetrators of sexual aggression are more likely to change course when they understand the direct impact they’ve had, and are given constructive actions to take, rather than simply being shamed or punished. If the criminal justice system isn’t currently set up to serve either of these goals effectively, and the government isn’t providing alternatives, the community needs to step up and provide a container in which these dialogues can occur. Successful restorative dialogues in sexual aggression cases like the one at Dalhousie Dental School require funding for facilitators with extensive professional training. Neither the criminal justice system nor any of the (largely volunteer) restorative justice programs here on the Island offer consistent victim access to such resources. Until funding is provided for a new, parallel system, which would provide supported dialogues between offenders and victims, many offenders will be subject to disproportionately harsh, unproductive punishments, and victims will continue to endure the demoralizing, demeaning process of proving—to the media or the courts, “beyond a reasonable doubt”—they have been harmed. “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” posits Rourke, “to have survivors of sexual assault creating the system?” Writer Mollie Kaye is a volunteer facilitator at Restorative Justice Victoria, and believes that empathy-based, victim-centred dialogues are far better than punishment as a strategy to restore trust and heal communities.
  2. SOMETIMES ABSENCE can give us a clearer vision of the truth than what is present. Scientists extrapolate from what is missing as much as from what is there; artists create impressions of life that supersede reality by choosing to omit certain details. Sculptor Guthrie Gloag is both an artist and a scientist, and in 10 full-scale wildlife pieces he’s offering at his second solo show at Madrona Gallery, he uses descriptive and narrative aspects of absence to create his imagery and telegraph his message. If we encounter an animal in the wild, we don’t need to see every individual hair or claw to fully experience its energy and character; when we see an array of driftwood shapes on a beach, we know that it’s wood without seeing the entire tree it came from. To create his sculptures, Gloag carefully selects beach-sanded fragments of cedar and fir, which are inventoried and assembled in a months-long, improvisational process. Using decking screws and drills to affix the unaltered wood fragments to each other, his works gradually come to life as solutions to his self-created, organic visions, resembling three-dimensional “puzzles.” There is no set plan or armature, only layers upon layers of evocative shapes that begin to describe an animal’s presence. His sculptures are a dance of abundant detail and lack of information, forcing the viewer’s brain to create the impression of surfaces, details, and aliveness. "Coastal Wolf" by Guthrie Gloag “I have learned as I’ve built my process that sometimes the absence of a piece of wood is beneficial; to create negative spaces is just as important,” says Gloag. “The hollow is there, and the shadow creates an animal’s eye for the viewer.” The realistic size of his work is also an integral part of the experience. “I try to stay true to scale; I find that it creates a presence…for the viewer. There may be some exaggerations, like extending legs to enhance a sense of movement, but I try to stick to scale.” The relative size of each animal, as compared to a human viewer, is a visceral experience for Gloag, who depicts only subjects he has observed directly, sometimes during his field work as a biologist. Guthrie Gloag The allegiance to realistic scale means that when he depicts a subject like a grizzly bear (and yes, he’s been near enough to one in the wild to say it made him “feel small”), there are certain logistical issues, like door widths, transportation vessels, and sheer weight—Gloag is up for all of it. “It’s a challenge I love…the process of conceiving something in my mind and then setting forth to make it in three dimensions, I find immense joy in it.” He learned the hard way with his first Grizzly piece, which couldn’t be removed from his Vancouver apartment without being disassembled. Now on Bowen Island, Gloag and his young family live in a home that includes a 600-square-foot studio he uses for sculpting; he’s enjoying that it has double French doors. The largest sculpture Gloag created isn’t in a gallery, or part of someone’s private collection; it’s in the woods, “somewhere in BC,” far off the beaten track, where the artist intends for people to come across it incidentally. The 14-foot-tall mastodon is, for Gloag, a message about extinction and preservation, and a labour of love. He completed it “under cover of winter” a year and a half ago, the seasonal rains ensuring he would be largely undetected as he backpacked 100-pound loads of thousands of driftwood pieces to the site, assembling a massive, one-ton sculpture that has gotten coverage on CBC and become a destination site for the adventurous. I ask whether the sculpture has been disturbed by those who manage to find it. “It has been a test of humanity, and so far, humanity has passed,” Gloag reports. “People have been very protective of it. They love the sentiment of it; it’s a message of conservation. People are interacting with it, and leaving it as it is.” "Black Bear" by Guthrie Gloag As a child growing up in North Vancouver’s Deep Cove, Gloag says the ethic of conservation got woven deep. “I was always in nature, in the wilderness, identifying birds with my mom, going out in the boat with my dad. The intrinsic importance of nature was instilled in me from a young age.” While he didn’t identify himself as an artist, “Art has always been a necessity; to build, to create.” The young Gloag made fantasy figures out of clay and built forts in the woods. As a UVic student earning his degree in biology and environmental studies, he was “looking for a creative outlet. I tried stone sculpture, but was not very good at it. I tried painting as well.” During a vacation with his wife on Galiano Island in 2011, he assembled a life-sized driftwood sculpture of a deer on the beach, and “it kind of clicked. Sometimes people say, ‘I’m not good at art,’ but you just need to find your medium.” Gloag started out sculpting with only a passion to please himself, and a self-assigned mission to comment on both the majesty and fragility of wild creatures. He left his sculptures right where he made them, letting others anonymously encounter them on the beaches or hiking trails. He started to notice, though, that his efforts were getting “collected,” and when Madrona Gallery owner Michael Warren ended up at Gloag’s home for a casual dinner party, conversation immediately turned to finding him a wider audience and developing his career as a professional sculptor. “He wasn’t even at a point where he was considering there would be a market for his work,” Warren says of the fortuitous meeting. “As soon as I saw it, I was blown away, as far as the impact of it and how it’s constructed. For me, it immediately connected all the dots of this place—the material that he’s using is of this land; the subject matter he’s creating are all animals he has experience with in his biology and conservation work; and the aesthetic, his own personal style, connects with the roughness and the feel of this place so well.” Gloag’s work has indeed found a wider audience, and his pieces are now part of collections all over the globe. Response has been so positive that many are waiting their turn to have “right of first refusal” on his sculptures as he completes them. The ten pieces in the Madrona Gallery show will no doubt be snapped up, but it’s worth taking some time to be in the presence of these “animals,” created by an artist who is reverently conjuring the majesty of a particular animal’s presence—while starkly commenting on the increasing absence of wild things in our region. “Instinct,” works by sculptor Guthrie Gloag, June 2-16, opening reception 1pm–4pm Saturday, June 2, Madrona Gallery, 606 View St. More info at madronagallery.com or 250-380-4660. Mollie Kaye is a visual artist who grew up with a biochemist mom and a biophysicist dad. She appreciates the creative and scientific sensibilities that Gloag brings to his work. CBC Arts' 2017 video about Guthrie Gloag:
  3. DANA STATHAM has packed a lot into the last year, most of it living—not painting. She’s very early into an artistic career that doesn’t, at this point, feel like one to her. The amount of time she’s been able to devote to her creative endeavours isn’t as much as she’d like, but she also fears making art into something she does to pay the bills. Right now, she makes her living doing something entirely unrelated, but has a designated studio space developing in the home she recently purchased and is renovating with her new husband. Stylistically, if artists E.J. Hughes and Maud Lewis had a “love child,” it could very well be Statham. An auto-didact like Lewis, she imparts both joy and reverence into her acrylic-on-canvas coastal imagery with the detail, sophistication, and draftsmanship of Hughes. Response to her work has been very positive; she sold out her most recent shows on Hornby Island, where she’s spent a lot of time and which she loves to paint. She’s eager to see how Victorians will receive her work. "Mystic Beach" by Dana Statham, 24 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas I congratulate Statham on her past success; she demurs. “There’s something so unique about Hornby; it’s so many people’s ‘happy place’ and haven—they want any piece of it they can get…to take home with them.” Yet when she was painting arctic scenes during her time in Nunavut, “even that, people related to, and were excited about, so I don’t know...capturing the sense of place is what people love and connect with.” Dawn Casson, owner of The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm, says it’s more than just the subject matter of Statham’s pieces that her clientele is eagerly queuing for. “I’ve already got people asking if [her pieces] are available for sale before the show.” When she says that they have to wait until the pieces are hung, “They say, ‘I’ll be phoning you at 10am on the 26th, then,’” Casson recounts with a chuckle. “We’re very excited about her pieces,” Casson continues. “I can’t wait to see what they look like hanging on the walls…it’s just going to be stunning.” She discovered Statham’s work the modern way—on Instragram—and tracked the artist down to see if she’d be interested in having a show there. Statham, whose bike commute to her work at Saanich Peninsula Hospital took her past Mattick’s Farm, says, “I would pop into the gallery, and it was like [Casson] had curated all of my favourite artists into one spot,” so she felt she “would be in good company. I was happy to say yes.” "San Josef Bay" by Dana Statham, 36 x 24 inches, acrylic on canvas While Casson would have loved to create a solo show for Statham, this past year of life, work, moving, renovations and marriage all meant just seven pieces to display. To create a full show, Casson has partnered Statham with painter Wendy Oppelt, a veteran of the gallery whose loose, lively, “macro-impressionist” painting style serves as a foil to Statham’s meticulous, graphic compositions. Statham says of her seven paintings, “I plotted them all on a map,” and they ended up being a “circumnavigation of Vancouver Island…from the very north end at Cape Scott Park, to the Lochside Trail, Mystic Beach, Tofino…it happened to work out that it was a coastal exploration.” In the past, she would paint from imagination, but now works with photographs “to get the subtleties right.” While she knows people will likely be familiar with the vistas, she does take “a heavy dose of artistic license to tweak a composition…I try not to get too tied to a photo; it takes the fun out of it.” Paintings by Dana Statham and Wendy Oppelt, The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm, March 26-April 22, Monday-Saturday 10am-5:30pm, Sundays 11am-5pm. Opening reception April 14. 1-4pm. 109-5325 Cordova Bay Rd, 250-658-8333 or thegalleryatmatticksfarm.com. Mollie Kaye is Focus Magazine's arts editor.
  4. Mollie Kaye

    Guthrie Gloag

    "Black Bear," driftwood, wood screws Learn about Guthrie Gloag's life and art here
  5. Posted April 10, 2020 Painting: “Bernice Kamano” oil on panel, 28 x 22 inches, by Elfrida Schragen Elfrida Schragen’s art show is online now, with all proceeds helping those in deep need during the Covid-19 crisis. Go to story
  6. “Lorna Crozier—poetess” oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches Portraits of Victoria women raise funds for Our Place AS I COLLECTED MY PICK-UP ORDER of groceries last week at the new Save-on Foods at Pandora Avenue, I was amazed to see what looked like over 100 tents, erected for many blocks along the boulevard, centred around Our Place. To adhere to provincial social distancing requirements, all homeless shelters are currently operating at a fraction of their initial, pre-pandemic capacity. Hence, the immediate support and protection of this vulnerable population has become a grave concern, according to Steven Seltzer, events and fundraising coordinator for Our Place. “The need is greater; people are trying to survive through this without the normal supports,” he says. “We’ve tried to adapt as best we can; instead of people coming in to get the help at Our Place…we’re feeding them outside, the paramedics are out and about. We’re lacking some of the ordinary funding we normally get—businesses would come in, serve a meal and sponsor, but that’s not happening, so obviously we’re looking for alternate ways to raise funds to run four shelters.” To contribute to this need (though she began well before the pandemic), portrait artist Elfrida Schragen has created a series of paintings capturing the spirit and achievements of 40 of Victoria’s most accomplished and influential women as a fundraiser for Our Place. An “online gallery” at www.hibid.ca/events/admired must now stand in for the physical exhibition originally envisioned at the Bay Centre. The official show begins April 9 and runs through June 30. All donated funds will go directly to Our Place, and donors will receive charitable receipts. “I love to do portraits,” Schragen says. “People don’t commission portraits of themselves very often; it’s seen as self-centred. So I thought maybe I could do this for a reason, and people would feel more comfortable.” Subjects include Focus’ own Leslie Campbell, dance maven Lynda Raino, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, choral conductor Shivon Robinsong, and Victoria Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, among others. “Bernice Kamano—support for homeless Indigenous” oil on panel, 28 x 22 inches “Carole Sabiston—textile artist” oil on canvas, 28 x 24 inches “Everyone is in need of money right now,” Schragen acknowledges. “People are trying to be generous.” While the portraits can be purchased outright for $1000 by either the subject or a group, donations in the name of each portrait subject are being collected online as a way to honour the diverse contributions of these female community leaders—while directing funds where they’re needed most during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s not an auction, it’s more like, 'I want to donate to Our Place, let’s put it as a donation toward this particular painting;’ it’s like a support system.” All of the paintings are either 22 by 28 inches, or 24 inches square. “I took the photographs and then put in the background they each wanted, composing as I went,” Schragen says of the deft, impressionist images. “I wanted them to okay the portrait before I made it public in any way. We had lots of fun.” To view the exhibit see www.hibid.ca/donate/admired You can view Elfrida Schragen’s website at www.elfridasart.com Mollie Kaye writes and performs parodies of ’40s and ’50s songs. She also is the vintage-clad performer behind “Turned-out Tuesdays” (see www.theyearofdressup.com)—now with a home-made mask.
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    PROGRAMS IN EARTH LITERACIES’ mission is “to ignite our sense of connectedness with Earth and nurture a spirituality of Earth care through learning circles.” Program coordinator Gertie Jocksch says this is what inspired the 12-year-old nonprofit to bring environmentally-focused singer/songwriter Sara Thomsen into town to give a benefit concert and workshop for the Friends of Bowker Creek Society (FOBCS). Sara Thomsen “We’ve never done this before,” Jocksch says of the concert, a new venture for Earth Literacies that organizers thought would be “a perfect fundraiser” for FOBCS; “they’re taking out invasive species, keeping that area green, and it’s time for us to do something that supports an important project like this.” Historically ignored, buried, and sullied, Bowker Creek runs through the municipalities of Oak Bay, Saanich, and Victoria. The non-profit FOBCS formed to organize watershed cleanup and public education efforts. “They’re doing wonderful work,” Jocksch says. “There are lots of family activities; it’s time to give back… it fits so well with our mission.” Singer Sara Thomsen is on a mission as well. “At concerts, conferences, classrooms, workshops, retreats, jails, places of prayer, and lines of protest, to be with Sara is to want to sing… Sara’s ability to get people singing magically transforms gatherings into communities empowered with possibility,” her bio reads. Based in Duluth, Minnesota, Thomsen will also be holding a workshop, with proceeds from both events earmarked to benefit FOBCS. Sara Thomsen performs April 17 at 7:30pm, tickets $25. “Songs Like Seeds—Planting Love Note by Note, Singing Playshop” with Sara Thomsen, April 18, 10am-4pm, $75. Both events at Cadboro Bay Gordon Head United Church, 2625 Arbutus Road. Tickets at earthliteracies.org or 250-220-4601.—MK
  8. IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR AN EXCUSE to rock your style, get a little fancy, drink some good wine, and enjoy the company of some of Victoria’s most exciting and respected visual artists, plan to attend the Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society (VVALS)’s annual awards event. Mary-ellen Threadkell, vice president of VVALS, says it’s an annual celebration of both the legacy artists that make up Victoria’s past and present landscape, and those five hand-picked art students who are emerging as community-builders and exceptional artists at five local colleges. VVALS awards a $1000 bursary each year to one student of Camosun College, UVic Arts in Education, UVic Fine Arts, Victoria College of Art, and Vancouver Island School of Art. “In most cases, when a student receives a bursary, they get a cheque in the mail and a nice letter,” Threadkell says. “This event is pretty extraordinary, because the student is meeting the legacy artists, fêted at a very elegant affair hosted at the Legacy Art Gallery… with blow-your-socks-off, fabulous food.” In addition to the elegant buffet of hors d’ouvres and good wines, there’s also an open bar. This year’s gala event is on Tuesday, April 7 and begins at 6:30 pm. There’s only one way to be among the 85 lucky guests: support the legacy program by helping with the student awards. “People can get an invitation to the event by donating to VVALS at a level beginning at $100,” says Threadkell. The long-term goal is to raise the bursary funding up to a higher level, since $1000 doesn’t go quite as far as it used to—especially in Victoria. Local legacy artists are those “who have reached international stature,” and each bursary recipient is matched with a legacy artist in their medium, says Threadkell. These include both living artists like Carole Sabiston and Pat Martin Bates (current president of VVALS), and those who have passed, such as Richard Ciccimarra, Karl Spreitz, James Gordaneer, Elza Mayhew, and others. Sabiston is a fibre artist and a new addition to the list who will be present at the April event. “This year we are thrilled because Senator Patricia Bovey will be giving the keynote address,” Threadkell adds. “She’s written wonderful books on Carole Sabiston and Pat Martin Bates, and is writing another book about western Canadian women artists. She’s coming to talk to the audience about what she’s doing as a senator for the arts in Canada.” Tickets are available through VVALS fund at the Victoria Foundation, or online at canadahelps.org. VVALS is a certified not-for-profit organization; www.victoriavisualartslegacy.ca—MK
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    DR. JANET RAY is a physician who works exclusively in mental health and substance use at an acute medical detox unit in Victoria for VIHA. She doesn’t have an art background, and she’s stretching herself to take on the role of organizer for a unique and discussion-provoking Victoria art exhibit curated by Melissa Lem, physician and board member of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Green Party MP Elizabeth May will be the keynote speaker at the opening of “Life in the Sacrifice Zone” on April 6; Lem will also speak about why CAPE physicians are alarmed about fracking, the process by which natural gas is being extracted from the “Sacrifice Zone” in northeastern BC. Fifth-generation farmer and artist Karl Mattson will be present, and his three functional Life Pod sculptures are the focal point of the exhibition. Fashioned of salvaged materials from oil-and-gas-industry scrapyards and farmyards, they are designed to serve as self-contained breathing apparatuses in the event of a lethal sour gas leak or rupture of the pipelines that surround his family farm in Rolla, BC. Large-scale colour photographs of subjects near fracking sites, and written essays about their stories will also be featured, along with film and video. "Life Pod–Executive" by Karl Mattson “This is a pretty overwhelming topic, to tell the truth,” Ray acknowledges. “It’s like an ambulance in the rearview mirror; you don’t really want to pull over—‘Maybe I don’t have to stop what I’m doing, it might turn the other way.’” The UN Intergovernmental Panel Report from 2018 was Ray’s ambulance. “As a physician…I should know what to do in an emergency. If something’s hemorrhaging, you gotta stop it.” She says the first thing CAPE wants to do is inform people. The second “is to create a venue where you can give and receive support for the climate crisis issue—a meeting spot where you can turn that awareness and support into action.” A list of MLAs and MPs, along with letter-writing paper and envelopes, will be on hand at the exhibit so people can “write to their representatives and let them know how they feel about fracking in Northeast BC.” “Life in the Sacrifice Zone,” Arts Centre at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, 3220 Cedar Hill Rd, April 6–19 daily. Opening night April 6 at 7pm, tickets at eventbrite.ca.
  10. MAKING CHORAL MUSIC relevant to people who might not be seeking it out has become job one for the leaders of many of our local choirs. While opera features costumes, sets, and plot lines to entice folks, choral music is not typically heavy on visuals. In a stroke of brilliance, Brian Wismath, artistic director for Victoria’s Vox Humana Chamber Choir (VHCC), is staging a wonderfully unique and visual choral music experience in late March: a screening of the celebrated 1928 silent film classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied live by the film score (“Voices of Light” by Richard Einhorn), performed by Wismath’s impeccable 28-voice choir, soloists, and members of the Victoria Symphony. Renee Falconetti as Joan Wismath says Einhorn’s score is “considered so seminal that it’s included with the film’s Criterion Collection release (there have been dozens of soundtracks created for the silent classic).” Directed by Carl Dreyer, the film is heralded as one of the most influential ever made, serving as inspiration for generations of film directors such as Bergman, Fellini and Hitchcock. The heart-rending close-ups of actress Renee Falconetti’s subtle, natural expressions humanize the complex range of emotions required in her role as Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in 1431. Yet, says Wismath, “The music has a playful character to it… it’s not all serious all the time.” It includes 15th century chant and even recordings of the bells from the actual church where Joan prayed. The challenge, of course, is technical. Wismath says there are “scenes in which a particular look happens, and the music has to synch up with that look perfectly.” His reverence for Dryer’s masterpiece is palpable. “I’ll be making sure that the music perfectly complements the film as much as possible; the music is secondary to the film,” he says, which “stands alone perfectly. It’s almost that you shouldn’t even notice the music; it should function in the background and complement what the audience sees on the stage.” Vox Humana Chamber Choir presents The Passion of Joan of Arc, March 29, 7:30pm, Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria, tickets $40, $25 (25 years old and under), available in person at Farquhar Auditorium or online at tickets.uvic.ca—Mollie Kaye
  11. Victoria band West My Friend provides a welcome balm for our world-weary souls. “GUILELESS” is defined as “honest, innocent; not able to deceive.” As an American ex-pat who keeps up with all the news down south, guilelessness is a balm for my soul. The three musicians who form Victoria’s fanciful folk band West My Friend seem to embody that word, and their lyrics telegraph it as well. For me, these musicians are ideal examples of top-notch, Canadian-grown youth: intelligent, talented, creative, hard-working—successful and savvy, but without guile. West My Friend (WMF) recently created one of the most ambitious, unusual albums I’ve heard within the well-populated genre of singer-songwriter bands trading in clever, plain-spoken lyrics set against acoustic melodies. Their 2019 CD, In Constellation, plumps those melodies into expansive lushness. In collaboration with local composer and arranger Adrian Dolan of The Bills, they’ve created a collection of inspiring, unexpected orchestral works that flower in fecund elegance from the seeds and soil of the band’s humble, sweet tunes. It’s a mashup of folksy innocence and edgy musical sophistication that leaves me smiling wryly, with my heart a little fuller. Listening to “Build a Bed,” their poignant and powerful song about love, I’m choking up. West My Friend (l-r): Jeff Poynter, Eden Oliver and Alex Rempel (Moss Photography) Jeff Poynter plays piano and accordion, and contributes vocals; Alex Rempel is on mandolin, and offers a versatile baritone voice. Eden Oliver plays guitar, and her lead vocals pour out with effortless clarity and spot-on accuracy, while the band’s multi-instrumental weavings create a velvet box for her jewel-like soprano. Whether she’s enveloped by Dolan’s majestic arrangements or simply flanked by Poynter and Rempel in someone’s living room, Oliver’s pipes don’t disappoint. As primary songwriter and lyricist for the group, Oliver lays out profound, stripped-down truisms that resonate like snatches of conversations about life with a good friend over tea. “Old Song” is her Gershwin-esque composition that Dolan works some whimsical magic on. “An Education” sparkles to life with Rempel’s harp-like mandolin solo behind Oliver’s voice, climaxing in a cornucopia of brass and tympani, and comes to rest again with the mandolin sighing sweetly among the strings. “Salt Water” begins with an ominous roll on the tympani, then contemplatively wallows in a guitar-and-vocal chant, Poynter’s accordion droning a minor chord, then builds into a spinning calliope of grandness with strings and horns, punctuated by cymbal crashes. “All These Things” juxtaposes a list of Grandma’s best recipes with a soaring symphonic score, lifting up the simplest acts of caring and connection to a height somewhere in the heavenly stratosphere. Dolan’s brilliant aural textures evoke surges of emotion, and serve as a reminder to me that the simple stuff of everyday life deserves our attention and reverence. The sophistication of In Constellation reveals that these “folk” musicians have some serious chops and background. All three earned music degrees from UVic, where they formed WMF ten years (and nearly 700 shows) ago. The instruments they play in the band are not the ones they honed in university (saxophone for Poynter, double bass for Rempel, flute for Oliver). The many instruments they’ve picked up since serve them well, and they contribute their classical skills to the orchestra tracks on their ambitious fourth album. “The people who like it really do like it,” Rempel says. “It’s not getting mainstream radio play…but we’re getting lots of college radio in the US and UK, sneakily taking over the world with esoteric, symphonic indie folk,” he chuckles. In the past, WMF has been nominated for a Vancouver Island Music Award and a Canadian Folk Music award; the current awards cycle wasn’t in full gear when I interviewed them this winter, but In Constellation seems likely to get some nods in 2020. With all of this talent and versatility, West My Friend surely could make plenty of strong recordings as a trio (and they have), so my first question for them as we sit down in Poynter and Oliver’s charming Fernwood living room is how in the world did they conjure the chutzpah to record an album with full orchestra, and produce a one-off concert with over 50 paid musicians at Alix Goolden Hall last September? The logistics, financing, and audacious gamble of it all boggle my mind, especially when they’re working full-time and touring internationally, playing an average of 65 shows a year. “We had to have a lot of people in the audience,” Poynter says, with his characteristic directness. He handles all of the bookings for the band, and has a proven track record of building alliances and networks. “We got a couple of grants as well. UVic alumni association provided some funds. It was a very expensive concert, and required a ton of organization; that’s why we don’t do it all the time.” The gamble paid off: lots of people did come to the show, but live concerts on that scale aren’t in the works again “unless an orchestra hired us—which is the goal,” he says. In the meantime, WMF has invited a choir to perform at their April 26 show at Alix Goolden Hall—and it’s not just any choir. Oliver has a K-12 education degree, and much of what WMF does when not performing involves workshops in schools, focused on guided listening and songwriting with students. The Voices in Motion Choir (VIMC) dovetails easily with the band’s mission of building community through music; it is comprised of Alzheimers and dementia patients, their caregivers, friends, and local students aged eight to 25, all rehearsing with a professional director and performing a schedule of public concerts. Launched in 2018, the choir is an interdepartmental research project involving sociology, psychology, and nursing PhDs at UVic, identifying and quantifying the mental and physical health benefits of choral singing, especially for those suffering from dementia, who are “highly susceptible to negative health outcomes brought on by social isolation and a lack of meaningful contribution,” Dr Debra Sheets, a professor at UVic’s School of Nursing, explains. She is a huge WMF fan, and is delighted about the collaborative concert. Erica Phare-Bergh, VIMC’s artistic director, serves as conductor, and says, “What started as one local choir has blossomed into three, and the VIMC model is now being replicated in cities throughout Canada.” Both women say having shared goals between young and old, patient and caregiver—like the upcoming West My Friend concert—enhances health and relationships. When I ask Oliver about WMF and their shared goals, she says the band is still recovering from the enormous effort required by In Constellation, but they will be working on new material in 2020, and intend to create a new recording. “It’s like a twinkle in our eye,” she muses, and the three musicians all smile at this, unified in their determination and vision as they embark on their second decade as a guileless—yet savvy—Canadian band. “A Sunday Afternoon to Remember: Voices in Motion in concert with West My Friend,” Sun, April 26, 4:30pm. Tickets, $25 or $20 student / senior, alixgooldenhall.com or 250-386-5311. Alix Goolden Hall at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, 907 Pandora Ave. Mollie Kaye writes and performs parodies of 40s and 50s songs, sometimes with Jeff Poynter backing her up on keyboards. You might also encounter her wearing comment-worthy vintage outfits and talking to strangers on “Turned-out Tuesdays” (see www.theyearofdressup.com).
  12. Mollie Kaye

    OUTstages festival

    until
    EVENTUALLY, I’d like to see a day where inclusion and respect are simply second nature to us all, and we cease sorting or labelling with prefixes like “gay” or “queer.” For now, though, these self-affixed identifiers seem a required part of an evolutionary process by which previously marginalized artists can claim their rightful place at the table. Hence, Intrepid Theatre is presenting its sixth-annual OUTstages, “a decidedly queer theatre festival,” founded by curator Sean Guist, who was recently appointed Intrepid’s co-artistic and marketing director. Guist notes that when OUTstages began, there was a void of professional queer art and professional queer theatre in Victoria. “We recognized that, and created this festival to fill that void in that community…because there’s a hunger for it.” Heather Lindsay, Intrepid’s artistic and executive director, says she is “so honoured to work alongside” Guist, and that OUTstages “is now recognized across Canada as a dedicated home for underrepresented and queer artists and community.” Intrepid’s website promises a festival “packed with theatre, music, drag, cabaret, soundscapes and a new local work in development!” Offerings will include: Where the Two-Spirit Lives: One part confessional, one part drag extravaganza, and all parts celebration that explores what it means to be Two-Spirit in contemporary society. eat your heART out Cabaret: Raucous cabaret numbers. Fabulous performance art. High camp. A queerly Valentines/Anti-Valentines Day featuring Salty Broad Productions. Like Orpheus: A candid dive into queer club culture and the trauma of sexual assault. Winner of Best Aspect of a Production for “Technical Presentation and Direction” at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival. Play Reading: How To Build a Home: A new solo show from local performer/creator Emilee Nimetz that explores how to create a life for yourself when you’ve come from a broken home, and how broken stories move within our bodies. Guist insists that exchewing the prefixes is an important translation for some. “Audiences who are looking at this and thinking: ‘The queer festival isn’t for me’—they are wrong. More than anything, it’s just really powerful, thrilling theatre.” For information, tickets for all shows, and festival passes, go to Ticket Rocket’s new location, 1050 Meares Street (Mon - Fri, 10am-5pm), or intrepidtheatre.com. —Mollie Kaye
  13. The YCSO performing at Pagliacci’s The very darkest, shortest days of the year may be past, but it’s still cold and dark. Klezmer music is helpful at this time of year. It’s the soundtrack of hope mixed with angst, of bright darkness and dark brightness. It’s never all one thing; klezmer bakes life’s contradictions and oxymorons right into the music. So why not wallow joyfully with the Yiddish Columbia State Orchestra (YCSO), Victoria’s own klezmer combo, at their official 20th birthday party at Hermann’s Jazz Club on January 16? The YCSO ’s founder, vocalist and accordionist Marion Siegel, told Chek News in 2018, “I had a concept of playing klezmer music, and I’m a Jewish mother; I like to feed people. I called up the best musicians in the city and said, ‘You wanna have really good dinner [at Pagliacci ’s] and play some music a couple times a week? ’” The band’s weekly gig at the Downtown eatery every Sunday evening has been an institution for decades, with tourists and locals alike revelling in the high-spirited, swing-infused tunes. “[It’s] a Jewish band playing in an Italian restaurant in a Victoria town,” Siegel quipped. “How could you be more Canadian than that?” Guitartist Avram Devon McCagerty says most people encounter the YCSO at Pagliacci’s. They’ve only played Hermann’s once before in these 20 years. “We decided to put on a show to celebrate…We love Hermann’s, we want to support it. We love playing Pags, but [the audience is] eating. Sometimes they come for us, sometimes for the spaghetti—‘come for the noodle, stay for the noodling.’” I ask McCagerty whether his personal decision to embrace the Jewish faith came before or after his tenure with the YCSO. At one of their wedding gigs, he was chatting with “Rabbi Harry,” and “my mother had just told me that her mother’s mother was Jewish. During a very long band break, and many, many drinks, we were schmoozing,” McCagerty says. “He said, ‘We’ll go for coffee and see where you wanna go with this thing.’” The band is made up of Jews and gentiles. I love that trumpet player Michael Mazza is Italian, but his last name is pronounced “matza,” like the flatbread. Joining Mazza, McCagerty and Siegel are Nick La Riviere, Julian Vitek, Dave Klassen, Chandra Crowe, and cousin Rod McCrimmon. “Jewish means ‘family,’” McCagerty insists, “so you can marry in.” Doors at 5:30, show at 7:30, Hermann’s Jazz Club, 753 View St, $15. Reserve tickets at hermannsjazz.com. —Mollie Kaye
  14. Victoria Children’s Choir director and founder Madeleine Humer is passing the baton. DUCKING INTO THE WARM, crowded, Christmas-music-and-conversation cacophony of a Downtown Starbucks on the dreariest of December afternoons, I spot a curly-haired woman seated at a table. I’ve never met her, but I’ve seen that head from the back, conducting some impressively polished performances of the Victoria Children’s Choir (VCC). Madeleine Humer—“Mads” to the kids who have sung for her—and I exchange a wave. I’m here to ask why, after 20 years as VCC’s founder and artistic and concert choir director, she has decided to pass her baton to a successor. As we settle into our conversation, it’s striking how genuinely ebullient she is—about her work with the kids, and about stepping down. Describing her musical passions, VCC’s history, and her hopes for the future, she is ablaze with vision and delight. This is no small feat for anyone, at any age, in any season—and I’m inspired by her energetic positivity on this particular day, damp and dark as it is, talking about the end of her tenure in a valued role. There isn’t an iota of shade coming from Humer (perhaps a fitting name for someone so jolly), and thinking back on all the dour choir directors I’ve had, I can imagine how much the kids will miss her. Madeleine Humer (Photo: Tegan McMartin) Humer grew up in Victoria; singing and blending her voice with others was always a passion. Since classical choral repertoire was a vital part of most kids’ lives here in the 60s, she says, “I sang classical repertoire at school; [church] choral classes were full.” There was, she recalls, no hard line at school between the “three R’s” and the arts; it was all seen “as education—including painting, including music—[the fine arts were] part of that culture.” The 70s, she says, were a time of major shifts and upheaval. Churches all over the world lost their choirs “for all sorts of reasons,” and to this day, she laments, they are still struggling, “even in England.” Humer was studying music in Vienna in the early 70s and remembers the vote at King’s College which “only just scraped through to keep the choir.” The recovery process, she says, “has been very difficult for educators; the idea of singing in the choir is not as appealing for kids.” Classical music, once so prevalent, “is not ‘every day;’ most families have some CDs of classical music, and go to kids’ symphony concerts,” but it’s not woven into life the way it was a generation or two ago. “There was a rich, rich choral background for kids,” she says. “I think I was lucky, that it was something I was fascinated with from a very young age, when music was [more] accessible through records and concerts…I just loved that harmony, whatever it was,” Humer says with a warm smile. One thing that hasn’t changed, she insists, is the sheer enthusiasm young people demonstrate for classical music, once it appears on their radar. “We’re cheating our children if we don’t give them an opportunity to know their choices,” she explains. “They get exposed to so many other types of music, everywhere—but they have to make an effort to find classical music. Kids are really hungry for it when they find it. They’re overjoyed.” She says she’s not passing judgement on other forms and traditions; “all music has value. Classical music is one of our heritages; it’s a shame that it’s gotten lost…in every [children’s] choir that I’ve had, if you ask them what they want to sing, to show off, they choose a classical piece. Why wouldn’t they?” The Victoria Children's Choir (2017) Humer, who adores the Baroque period of music especially, trained and sang as a professional soprano soloist and taught English-language songs to children as an educator in European schools. When she divorced, the single mom and her two young kids relocated to Victoria, and Humer began a new chapter in her life. She took a post at Glenlyon-Norfolk School as an educator and choral director. Her work there was so successful that the Victoria Symphony gave hiring preference to her Glenlyon-Norfolk choirs anytime the repertoire called for a children’s chorus. Eventually, Humer felt it was best to form a not-for-profit community choir to answer those requests, and their inaugural rehearsal was on September 11, 2001 (Humer vividly recalls the exact date; there was a decision made, she says, to carry on, despite the catastrophic events of that morning). Originally called the Victoria Symphony Children’s Choir, Humer and the orchestra soon reached the conclusion that “Victoria Children’s Choir” would, for various reasons, be a more strategically beneficial moniker going forward. Over the past two decades, Humer’s encouragement, insight, and meticulous direction have afforded hundreds of Victoria children the opportunity to grow their vocal abilities and confidence while preparing and performing challenging choral repertoire. Tens of thousands of local audience members have enjoyed their stage appearances with the Victoria Operatic Society, the Victoria Symphony, the Pacific Baroque Festival, and other professional arts organizations, and at high-profile events such as the official welcome ceremony for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and with The Tenors at the Royal Theatre. The choir has also made a name for itself internationally. In 2011, it performed at the Summa cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna—placing first in the Treble category—and, in 2015, at the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. The choir celebrated Canada’s 150th Birthday with a Maritime Tour in July, 2017. There are now three Children’s Choirs, two for younger musicians (starting at age 7), with the Concert Choir that Humer directs being for more experienced 12-and-ups. Humer speaks so excitedly about the singers, the repertoire, and the choir camps she’s organized for her young musicians; I ask if she’s sad about leaving it all to someone else. She breaks into a huge smile and says, “Oh, it’s someone absolutely wonderful, and [VCC will] be announcing it sometime in the new year. I’m excited for the future. I said I’d be happy to sit on the board; I could help with fundraising. The person who is taking over has expressed a hope that we can sit down and discuss many aspects of the organization, including repertoire.” Humer feels a sense of responsibility to leave on a high note, as it were, so that the organization she so loves can enjoy a smooth and positive transition. “I’ve seen too many colleagues my age hanging on by their fingernails to things they have started,” she says. “To me, the perfect departure is when everything is doing well; I have a sense with this choir that that’s where they are. I don’t want to be holding on. I want to hand this over with great joy to its new future. I’m very proud.” Humer, who understands the enormous health and social benefits of singing together in groups, says her passion for vocal music will inevitably propel her toward new ventures in that arena. “At my age, I have opportunities to get involved in other things. I’m a passionate environmentalist. I’m feeling very strongly about…music being part of our education system. Maybe I’ve still got something to say, something to add from my experiences, to help kids who might otherwise not get a chance to try out this stuff.” The Victoria Children’s Choir will perform during the Pacific Baroque Festival in early March. See www.pacbaroque.com and www.victoriachildrenschoir.ca. Mollie Kaye is a vocalist and satirist who hopes more Victoria kids will join the Victoria Children’s Choir and enjoy the lifelong benefits of learning to perform classical choral music. This story was edited to correct spelling of Madeleine.
  15. CHINATOWN might still seem a little rough around the edges to some, but back in the ’80s, it was a lot rougher. Montreal-based artist Nicholas Vandergugten was born into that scene; he and his brother spent their early childhood folded into what he remembers as a world of “crazy characters”—a “man’s world. Luis [Merino] and Darcy [Gould] and Harry [Shafer], all these big male personalities vying for their place; it’s problematic. I felt there was a lot of competition as well as love and admiration, a lot of big egos mixed with sensitivity.” Nicholas’ father, Bert Vandergugten, settled there with his wife in the late ’70s, and produced a prolific body of work—yet had a complicated relationship with the exhibition and sale of it. “The Last Picture Show,” an October event in Chinatown showcasing a half-century of prolific output, was Bert’s idea, and he had every intention of being there—in body, not just spirit—“but he wasn’t able to make it,” Nicholas explains. Surrounded by his father’s impressionistic landscapes, figure and still life paintings, and sculptures, he tells me, “It was very important for him to be here, to be present and to say goodbye…but [his death from cancer] didn’t end up being that smooth.” Bert Vandergugten Bert “didn’t want a celebration of life, or funeral,” Nicholas insists. Yet as I sit with him and talk about his father, many friends and associates come up the rickety wooden stairs to do the same. Memories and anecdotes are swirling around us, and Chinatown’s old guard are recounting their ’80s exploits. When Nicholas entered grade school, the family decided to move to Thetis Lake, where the boys could more safely explore. Bert made his living as a welder and fabricator, not as an artist. (He made the red iron gate in Fan Tan Alley.) “Being an artist was more of an ideology than simply a profession. [Bert] wouldn’t like the term ‘profession’ as an artist…showing or not showing didn’t affect whether he made work, but he still needed validation,” Nicholas says. There’s a sizeable volume of work still available for sale, with all proceeds going to the Victoria Youth Clinic art program. Nicholas can be reached via email at nicvandergugten@gmail.com and you can view Bert Vandergugten’s work at www.bertvandergugten.weebly.com. “It’s all a part of history,” Nicholas offers as he gestures around the room. “Even if you don’t know the man, he was an artist in the ’80s. Chinatown is changing so rapidly. To hold on to something from that time is interesting.” Mollie Kaye is a multi-faceted mid-century enthusiast who documents her community connection project, “Turned-out Tuesdays,” at theyearofdressup.com.
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