VERNON - The Vernon Community Arts Centre has seen a huge spike in visitors, almost doubling the number of budding artists coming through their doors last year.
Adult visitor numbers jumped to 8,298 in 2018 from 4,243 in 2017. Arts Council of the North Okanagan executive director Gale Woodhouse says the 96 per cent increase in visitors comes down to better management, but also to a shift in the region as to how people view and interact with art. Woodhouse admits the centre is much better at counting the number of people who walk through the door - which she does account for some of the increase - but aside from this, she says there's new interest from people wanting to participate in art.
"People can see the benefits of being involved in the arts," said Woodhouse. "There's also an understanding that participation in the arts is beneficial to your health."
The community art centre is run under the umbrella organization Arts Council of the North Okanagan and opened its doors on Highway 6, in Polson Park in 1990. Run as an "art education facility" the centre offers seven specialist studios from glass, clay and fibre arts to drawing and painting and a print shop. The centre offers courses in a variety of different mediums and once participants complete a 10-week course they're free to come and use the studios as a drop-in space. The centre also has a small gallery and store, several full and part-time staff but also relies heavily on volunteers. Eighty people volunteered their time over 2018, although that number is down from the year previous which saw 150 people volunteer their time. Woodhouse puts the decline in volunteer numbers down to an ageing population and says the centre is lucky even with the drop it's never short of volunteers.
Woodhouse said more than 30 different groups rent rooms and the arts centre has over 800 individual members.
With a plan to make the centre more accessible, it's small steps that have added to the dramatic growth in numbers, Woodhouse says. The centre increased the number of courses and changed the way they offered classes.
"When you take a beginners class all materials are supplied," she says. It might not sound like much, but Woodhouse says it removed the intimidation factor. New students don't have to bring expensive art supplies. "It's more accessible."
The centre also had a big push in marketing and promotions.
"We're no longer shy and retiring and hiding under a bush... we're out," says Woodhouse. "All those things made a huge difference to us... we've done a lot of work in changing how we do business."
But on top of the hard work, Woodhouse says there's a change in the way people view art in society. She points to the referendum to build a new cultural centre last fall that passed, as evidence of how people view art and culture.
"There's a new interest in participating in arts and culture in the city."
In the 15 years Woodhouse has lived in Vernon she says now is the most exciting time for art that she's seen.
"It's vibrant, it's energized. People are excited about the future," she adds.
Click here for more information about the Vernon Community Arts Centre.
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