Accessibility is key for Two Rivers Gallery

Two Rivers Gallery wants to showcase their accessibility and barrier-free facility.

"For me the gallery is not so much about the building but it's about engaging with art, creativity and expressing yourself," Carolyn Holmes, managing director, said. "Sometimes this place can be the gateway to those experiences. I want people to know that we're a really welcoming place, that everybody can come here. Sometimes there are barriers associated with galleries and we want to erase all that and encourage people to come and try us out."

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Holmes, who's been working at the gallery for the last 20 years, said staff often support other events in the community and work with other organizations so that they can reach people that way.

George Harris, curator and artistic director, has been with the gallery for 18 years but first he was with the Prince George Art Gallery for two and a half years, then spent five years with the Yukon Art Centre in Whitehorse before he returned to Prince George to join the team at the current gallery.

"One of the things I love about the gallery and what it is that we do here is that it provides a window on so many different experiences, so many different worlds, so many different ways of seeing yourself in relationship to the world in relationship to other people," Harris said. "As we move forward and address the changing world, the one thing that's going to be a tremendous boon to us is our ability to respond creatively to the challenges that are put in front of us."

Twyla Exner, director of public programs, has been at the gallery for the last two years. She has a strong background in education and is also a visual artist who actually participated in a group show at Two Rivers many years ago and then in 2012 she had a solo show in the gallery. So there's a long history here.

"I believe galleries are public institutions and are here to serve the public as well as serve artists," Exner said. "We are a means to share artists and artwork with the community."

It takes the management team of three to make the Two Rivers Gallery a success.

"We work as a management team," said Holmes.

They oversee the public programs and the art exhibits.

"So Twyla, as well as interpreting the exhibitions her department puts on the events like Kids Art Days, all the studio programs, maker lab and those are the ways we connect with our local community," Holmes said. "As a working artist I think Twyla understands both what happens in the exhibition spaces and what the artists are trying to say and also she can really relate to the people - she has an education background so she knows how galleries work. She fits in well with our team. And I think, like George and I, she cares about this place, art and the things that really drive us."

Carolyn has held other positions at the gallery and comes from an educational programming background.

"Carolyn has been here a while and seen the gallery change and been an integral part of the evolution of this place," Harris said. "Carolyn is a passionate believer in making connections between people and the arts and it's definitely an idea we all share. I think it's fantastic to have somebody who has that sense of commitment, enthusiasm and a strong sense of belief in this institution and helping make it into the best possible place it can conceivably be."

Exner has an interesting perspective on Harris and his role at the gallery as she sees him through not only a coworker's eyes but from that of an experienced artist.

"George is a well-respected curator in the arts community," Exner said. "He's been in this position for a long time and he's made really meaningful connections with a lot of artists. Artists that I know talk really positively about their experiences here and how much they enjoyed working with George. He's a great story teller so he's always paying great attention to every little detail in the exhibitions and the work that he does at the gallery."

Altogether there is eight full-time staff at the Two Rivers, eight part-time staff and five summer students. There are also 121 volunteers who are a big part of its success.

"It's a huge team and we get along well because we care about the team, we care about the gallery and we all enjoy what we do," Holmes said.

The Two Rivers most notable accomplishments include making entry into the gallery free for anyone who self-identifies as Indigenous to make it more accessible and further remove barriers.

The gallery is in the process of developing an exhibition exploring the theme of reconciliation.

"We're looking forward to having an exhibition that presents a diverse range of experiences and voices," Harris said. He included artists from B.C. who are survivors of residential schools, affected by the consequences of the Indian Act, and those healing who have found a way to resolve the injustices of the past. The art exhibit will take place July 18 to Oct. 6.

The increasingly popular MakerLab has been at the gallery for the last five years. MakerLab is a multi-disciplinary community space stocked with tools, technology, materials and has mentors there to guide participants. Tools include a Tinkerine 3D printer, Epilog laser cutter/engraver, silversmithing tools, sewing machine, as well as an ever-growing variety of general purpose tools.

"It is an uncommon pairing (between MakerLab and gallery) and in the last few years I feel like we've really been defining how the MakerLab fits into the gallery and how it connects with artists and the community and how it is integrated into our programs," Exner said. The program was recognized with awards from the B.C. Museum Association and the Canadian Museum Association and for the past couple of years Two Rivers has presented the MakerLab at conferences across Canada to show an innovative way to connect with community.

Other programs include Art Heals that has been presented at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. for the last 16 years for those struggling with mental health and addictions issues. Every summer Kidz Art Dayz is a multi-day event presented inside the gallery that spills out into the Canada Games Plaza where thousands of children explore art in unique ways, including a community mural, a splatter paint zone, and there's even a rocket launcher.

"Our strategic goals have a lot to do with reaching out and engaging the community and inspiring the community, as well," Holmes said.

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