Space behind the art

KPU art gallery a hidden gem.

By Awais Mushtaq

In an eggshell-white room with a grey, tape-marked, paint-spattered floor and a chorus of buzzing ceiling lights, a guest book carries comments such as, “Awesome,” “Cool,” “Amazing,” “Very Impressive” and “Beautiful.” If you are unfamiliar with this description, or unaware of such a room at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, it is in fact the Surrey campus’ Fine Arts Art Gallery, located in the Fir building, room 126. The gallery is an extension of the fine arts wing, which is adjacent to the science department in the Spruce building, which displays industrial/mechanical sculptures on its outside courtyard.

As a group, the faculty members of the fine arts department curate the shows that are exhibited both in the Fine Arts Art Gallery as well as the Arbutus Gallery, located in the Coast Capital library.

“They’re both run by the fine arts department but they’re separate in terms of what is being shown in them usually,” explains Paulo Majano, an instructional associate for the fine arts department. “The gallery in the Fir building has been here for a long time, a few decades, the one in the Arbutus building in the library would have started when the library opened during the new expansion, which would be about five years ago”

The Fine Arts Gallery is a bit of an experimental space where third-year fine arts students can actually do their work and are encouraged to promote it within the gallery. At the end of four weeks, they collectively have a body of work that is displayed in the exhibition. That itself comes to a close after a couple of weeks, with the gallery re-opening once another body of work is set up, restarting the cycle. While primarily the artwork on display is by students, occasionally pieces by invited artists or faculty members is also shown, ranging in art projects from other cities or ones with local connections, to the Surrey Art Gallery.

For Majano, because the gallery in Fir is specifically for third-year arts students, it is in a way “Run by the students . . . They are able to practice setting up a show and organizing where things go . . . I think it’s fair to say that they have a hand in curating the exhibitions that they put together.”

Every couple of years, different members of the fine arts faculty act as gallery coordinators of both spaces, with instructor Sibeal Foyle currently assuming the role. However, in terms of monitoring there is no individual person present throughout the day. In both galleries the prevalence of contemporary art isn’t restricted to any medium—drawings, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, print/digital media, photography, performance and installations of every kind are showcased.

“Contemporary art projects sometimes relate to Surrey in some way, and sometimes they might be something relating to issues around the local scene,” says Majano.

Majano continues to explain that, “The Arbutus Gallery has a lot of traffic. It [gets] a lot of attention and we do hear back from people who work at Kwantlen, or students sometimes who are regularly here, [and] they will ask us when a show is coming up because they heard about something. So people keep track of what’s going on.”

Officially, the fine arts department has three gallery spaces, with the Surrey campus exhibiting two and the third located at the Cloverdale campus. This tech fine arts campus gives fourth-year students an exhibition space, the Digital Projection Gallery, that becomes a gallery space once a year for the graduating class.

“During the graduation show, it’s actually one that’s very well attended . . . through word-of-mouth by students in the fine arts department, a lot of other people who are not in the same program or area come and see it.”

Due to the fact that the library is not just used by Kwantlen students, but also the community, Majano points out, “The Arbutus Gallery is really important for us in that it is very visible. It allows us to showcase the work that our students make visible to Kwantlen as a community . . . so that gives us a way of putting out the work that people make in here.”

Currently, the faculty exhibition in the Arbutus Gallery and the student exhibition in the Fine Arts Gallery have just wrapped up, with more to come in the next couple of weeks. Students as well as members of the community can access the Arbutus Gallery during library operating hours. The Fine Arts Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.


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