When Sara Lopez Assu took over the reigns of the Campbell River Art Gallery as its new executive director early in 2020, she was excited to get to work. Little did she know she was about to guide the facility and organization through one of the most challenging years in its history.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, and restrictions began being put in place, her role leading an organization whose goal is to bring people together and celebrate art and artists suddenly became a lot more difficult.
And as she looked back on the year late last month, she wanted to see the statistics to see how bad it really was.
How many fewer people walked through the doors? How many fewer people were reached by the great work they were doing? How many fewer kids got to take advantage of their Super Saturday art sessions?
“It was a bit depressing at first, because obviously the numbers are so much lower than previous years,” Lopez Assu says, “but then we considered that we were 10 months in a pandemic, we turned it around and instead made it a celebration of the small victories and used it to pat ourselves on the back.”
“Sure, we didn’t see tens of thousands of visitors last year,” she says, “but we managed to get a fair number of people through our doors despite what was going on in the world. So it was nice to reflect on how we managed to pivot and still engage with people in some capacity in what was maybe our hardest year ever. It would be easy to look back and be disappointed that we had to cancel things and got a fraction of the people in that we might have otherwise, but that’s not going to get us anywhere.”
And they learned a few things along the way that they’re going to use as they move forward into another year of uncertainty, Assu says.
“I think if there’s an overarching theme to what we’re looking at going forward it’s ‘community building,’” she says. “Celebrating close to home was the biggest take-away from 2020 for me, was that we can still be community builders and reach out to people while everyone became homebodies, so 2021 will be all about continuing to reach out to people and celebrating the things that are close to home.”
One of the ways they’ll continue that trend, she says, is to keep partnering up with other local organizations and developing an atmosphere of cross-pollination within the local art scene.
“When you think about Sugarbush Shrapnel in November, it had some strong themes of environmental sustainability and Indigenous ways of knowing, we made some connections with Greenways (Land Trust) on that,” she says. “While the folks at Greenways might not be intuitively interested in art, necessarily, there is art that can be interesting and important to people who have those kinds of interests. And similarly, how can we get folks who are interested in art engaged in the discussions surrounding climate change and environmental stewardship?
“We want to be community players and community partners, so cross-promoting each other like that is a really good way of everyone helping each other out,” she continues, “and it also helps bring together a diverse set of voices, which I think is really important, and is really what art is all about: having wide open conversations about complex issues and allowing different voices to chime in.”
And they’ll be starting off the year with another example of that: the annual Members’ Show, in collaboration with the Campbell River Arts Council, which once again celebrates local artists and artisans both in the physical gallery and online, beginning Jan. 14.
Watch both organizations’ social media platforms for information on how to experience the exhibition, and stay tuned for more exciting announcements from the gallery in the coming months as they continue to navigate another uncertain year in 2021.