With a mutual embrace, Michael Kast handed over the keys to Donna Morrison. It was the last moment he had unfettered access to the artist's room at Studio 2880, and for her it was the beginning of a new opportunity.
Kast, along with Lynette LaFontaine, shared the creation station as the 2017-18 Community Arts Council artists-in-residence. For a year, they had 24/7 access to their own place to make art. Now, for the next 12 months, that space will be used by Morrison.
"My opportunity to be the artist-in-residence has allowed me to grow exponentially as an artist but also to grow within the community," said Kast.
LaFontaine was unable to attend the ceremony of thanks and welcome.
"Now in its sixth year, the artist-in-residence program has established a reputation of helping to launch and develop the careers of talented visual artists in a diverse range of media," said Community Arts Council (CAC) executive director Sean Farrell, noting that LaFontaine's traditional Mtis art in its many forms, and Kast's mix of painting and digital art got plenty of public notice. Both, he said, "drew attention to the artistic and cultural diversity that defines our contemporary community."
Having two was an experiment. Farrell said each year he and the CAC board wanted to change up the experience for the organization as well as for the public.
What would remain the same, though, he said, was the suite of supports that come with the artist-in-residence title. It is so much more than a key to a private oasis.
Components of the program include:
No-cost studio space at Studio 2880
Administrative and mentorship support
Website, newspaper, radio, TV and social media coverage throughout the term
Opportunities to display and sell artwork at CAC events
Minimum one, 30-day, Feature Gallery Exhibit
"The artist-in-residence also facilitates outreach activities such as talks, workshops and exhibitions, intended to promote interaction and professional development, and provide access to a diverse range arts practices within the community," Farrell said. "During the term of the residency, the artist also delivers art classes for children, adults and seniors."
The latter element is in Morrison's strike zone. She is a veteran painter who has travelled the world depicting women's issues, especially, in her artist's scope. She painted five murals in Berlin, has exhibited on three continents, and has lived in a number of cultures since earning her Fine Arts Diploma at the University College of the Cariboo (now known as Two Rivers University).
Morrison, originally from the northern Okanagan, moved to Prince George in 2012 where she now operates her studio named Life Lessons Fine Arts. It is primarily a teaching studio where she has a group of children and a group of adults as students.
She had gotten away from the prolific flow of art she used to work on, her time dominated instead by mentoring others, but the keys she took in hand on Wednesday would soon re-open her creative doors.
"I'm so thrilled, so honoured, I just feel blessed," she said.
"I've been busy building my own little studio, I'm in my fifth year now, and I learn everyday. I get so much joy and inspiration from that (teaching process)," she said, but couldn't wait to put brush to canvas herself thanks to this new space.
"I need to be mentored, too," she explained, but admitted feeling shy about applying for the position until CAC staff encouraged her to at least put her name forward for consideration.
She recently had a painting accepted into a group exhibition in Penticton on the theme of eRacism. (Others shown in the show included famed writer George Elliot Clarke, musician and poet Kris Demeanor, Syrian multimedia artist Amr Fahed, and many others, all curated by former Prince George resident Paul Crawford.) Her confidence as an artist was rebuilding.
"It rekindled something in me," said Morrison. "I realized, aha, it's back. I needed to paint. I do know I have something to say through my painting."
Part of her motivation to warm up her artistic voice again is seeing the children she teaches in the context of the recent spate of youth suicides this community has experienced. She wanted to use her art to speak up and "let them know that there is hope, that community matters, and that people matter."