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Arts enthusiast returns to boost arts and culture in Kelowna

Tyler Russell is the new Executive Director of the Rotary Centre for the Arts

KELOWNA - Tyler Russell returned to Kelowna in October with the dream of revitalizing the legacy of artistic and cultural talent that nurtured him as a boy.

“I look at the efforts of the people who really influenced me when I was a kid: Don Keith, Neil Facey, Ursula Surtees, Debbie Helf and some of the others who invested so much in making sure we had strong foundations for culture here,” the new Executive Director for the Rotary Centre for the Arts told “People have done a lot of work over the decades. We need to honour that work and we need to continue to make this place as vibrant as possible.”

Facey, Keith and Helf have been stalwarts in Kelowna’s performing arts scene for decades. Surtees was the head of Kelowna’s museum for many years.

Russell also remembers hanging out at places like the Laurel Packing House, East Kelowna Hall and the French Cultural Centre for the active alternative and punk music scenes.

His first theater experience was in 1985, in Theatre Kelowna Society’s production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Keith.

He wants to build on those foundations and memories and fulfill the arts centre's vision of being Kelowna’s heart of arts and culture.

He graduated from Kelowna Secondary School in 1994 after spending a year as an exchange student in Kelowna’s sister city of Kasugai in Japan and being active in the schools’ theatre scene.

He moved on to get a degree in International Development Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, spending two summers working on “post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding” in the former Yugoslavia.

But he didn’t move away from the arts and cultural parts of his life.

“That (Yugoslavia) is where I decided to spend a significant amount of my career working in the arts,” he said in an email. “It was while running a kid’s arts camp that I really realized just how powerful art was at mediating conflict between people.”

He explained that he was trying to set up a volleyball game with children of different ethnic backgrounds and things were not going well. He put down some sheets of paper and pencils. As they drew - some of them drawing scenes of the trauma they'd gone through - the barriers broke down. While they didn't talk to each other about the war, the volleyball game quickly came together. Russell immediately recognized the power of art to break down boundaries.

He moved on to an internship at the Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Training Centre and worked as Coordinator of International Relations in the Japanese community of Nakatsue.

He moved back to Canada in 2008 where he founded and ran the Café for Contemporary Art in North Vancouver for five years.

In 2014 he became the Director/Curator of Centre A: the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

Given that background, he promised to bring diversity to Kelowna’s art scene.

“In the work that we do, I want to contribute to Kelowna knowing itself and coming to be known as a city of inclusion,” he said, stressing the importance of involving First Nations as a vital part of Kelowna’s cultural growth.

He talked enthusiastically about finding ways to create an artists-in-residence program or dancers honing their skills on the centre's two stages and getting government grants to take the centre to another level.

And he stressed the need for Kelowna to be a city where art is created, not just viewed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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