NEEPAWA — Neepawa’s arts and culture hub is celebrating being able to once again welcome the community through its doors.
ArtsForward marked a rousing return to the community with a special grand reopening Oct. 22, said administrator Yvonne Sisley.
“It was exciting,” Sisley said. “It was a little overwhelming to see the community support that turned out for it.”
The non-profit opened to the community with a fresh face. During closures, the gallery, north room and hallways were repainted to revamp the look of the building, and the hardwood floors were refinished by Flawless Floors of Brandon.
“We had our grand opening because we wanted the public to see how much has changed,” Sisley said. She added it also offered her a chance to introduce herself as the new administrator at ArtsForward.
The grand opening featured a travelling exhibition by the Manitoba Arts Network titled “Whimsical Meanderings,” by Manitoba artist Mary Lowe.
“People were just amazed by her work,” Sisley said.
Lowe’s work has been featured at the gallery before, and her art is always a vibrant and welcoming display for visitors.
“We knew it was going to be big, beautiful work, and that’s what we wanted in the gallery as our initial exhibit,” Sisley said. “It stops you in your tracks because each picture has so many pictures within the picture.”
Like many in the province, ArtsForward has been working to adapt to COVID-19, Sisley said, as the non-profit has not been able to celebrate arts and culture with the community in a typical fashion.
ArtsForward was forced to shut its doors to the public for close to a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the odd rental of the space did occur, they were unable to host art classes or gallery exhibitions.
Sisley praised the work of the board of directors for its commitment and hands-on support of ArtsForward over the past 18 months in finding opportunities during the closures, including updating and maintenance of the building.
Having the building closed was a huge loss for the Neepawa area, as it serves as an arts and culture hub for the community, Sisley said. But their hands were tied as they could not run anything under COVID-19 public health measures.
“Coming out of the last year and a half [to] two years, anybody can see … that the whole population was affected and mental health and wellness really took a huge hit,” Sisley said.
As an arts and cultural hub, ArtsForward has brought people together and inspired conversations, Sisley said.
She cited the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as an example. ArtsForward hosted a huge event in town and saw more than 600 hearts placed in front of the building, honouring those affected by residential schools.
The hearts served to start a dialogue in the community, she said. It was an amazing experience because she had the chance to connect with others, including residential school survivors, and really help capture the zeitgeist of the moment and ensure people felt empowered and motivated to pursue reconciliation.
Sisley said it’s a privilege and always a satisfying feeling when ArtsForward can host a new event or exhibit because it’s an opportunity to celebrate the amazing talent in Westman.
“I think it makes people feel good to see other people’s talent and to celebrate that talent and to have classes where people can learn or maybe figure out they have some of that talent as well,” Sisley said.
People gain confidence during the ArtsForward art classes because they are in a safe and comforting place that allows students to learn about themselves while acquiring a new skill.
“We’re really hitting all aspects. We’ve concentrated on wellness a lot this fall; a lot of our programs are about physical wellness, which will then go into the mental health wellness,” Sisley said. “Now we’re really working on starting to get the art classes and everything else up and running.”
She is finding there are two different types of people they are encountering now that the centre is open to the community: those eager to get out and are gung-ho to join classes, while others are more hesitant and have trepidations about jumping back into pre-COVID type of events and workshops.
Sisley added they hope the grand opening showed people it is OK to safely gather and that the non-profit is carefully following all safety precautions. Anyone who visits the facility will be required to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask.
“We’re trying to get back to that normal and make everyone feel comfortable being back in the facility,” Sisley said. “It was just nice to be out with people and see everybody come in and be excited about the art. It was exciting seeing everybody be so excited to be out and enjoying and visiting and enjoying the art and the space.”
ArtsForward is now featuring the work of the Portage Camera Club for the month of November.
Art classes and workshops are available, and they are working to bring in additional opportunities for students.
The annual Glorious Christmas Wish Sale is Nov. 27.
For more information on the programs offered at ArtsForward call 204-476-3232, email email@example.com or visit the centre’s Facebook, Instagram or web pages.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun