by Andrew Hoshkiw
originally published in: The Whitehorse Star, Wedesday, June 8, 2005
Once again, the Hougen group has done something great for the city of Whitehorse.
Last Thursday, the new Artspace North gallery, located in the basement of the Hougen Centre, opened its doors to the public. While initial planning estimated 70 people would attend the opening, in fact, well over 200 people were present.
The space for the gallery, along with the utility costs, were freely donated by the Hougen group. The money to renovate the space was raised by the Yukon Art Society.
"For the arts community, this will be the first time they'll have a permanent home to teach the arts in Whitehorse," said Rolf Hougen, president of the group. "This will be a major contribution to the development of young artists."
More than just a gallery, the space will also feature an art supply store and the Yukon's first art education centre.
"The learning centre is the exciting part," said Hougen. "We hope to be able to have the first class in about two weeks. There will be art classes here. Perhaps clay, photography, even a photo studio."
While the city does have arts teaching available through the schools, until now, Whitehorse lacked a permanent facility aimed specifically at art education.
There's no public art education space in the city that everyone can use," said Chris Dray of the Yukon Arts Centre. Dray spearheaded this initiative to bring the arts space to the downtown area.
"Most arts development has happened outside the downtown," said Dray. "After 30 years, we've finally arrived on Main Street."
The 5,000-square-foot facility took two months to prepare. As the preparations came down to the wire, the society began to panic when the lights did not arrive in time. To make sure the opening would happen, other arts facilities in the region lent out their lighting.
"The Klondike Gallery sent down, (last Thursday) morning on the plane, their lights for us to use," said Dray.
The goal of the Artspace North Society is to put a cultural space on every block on Main Street and along the waterfront within the next five years.
Said Dray: "There are not many open cultural spaces, and yet culture is one of the largest economic drivers. Culture and business need to go together for economic development."
Marlene Collins of the Yukon Art Society was thrilled by the turnout at the opening.
"We need a lot of space, and with this, we can display a greater range of art," said Collins. "We run workshops both for recreation and professional development, and this will help us with our mandate to foster arts in the north."
Meshelle Melvin, one of the artists with work on display at the opening, was excited about the project and glad to see it had so much support.
"I'm particulary excited about the teaching space," said Melvin. "It'll feature lots of mixed media. Figure drawing, printmaking, silkscreens of an emotional expressionist nature."
Dray stressed the notion that our economy is driven by creativity, and bringing cultural activity to the downtown sector will revitalize business.
"We need to use culture to increase economic activity downtown," said Dray. "With this facility, we're off to a good start."