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Contemporary Art Gallery thrives through Vancouver business community's generosity

Underthesun is a unique piece featured in Roy Arden's exhibit, currently showing at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in downtown Vancouver

A massive 20-foot pinwheel attached to a tandem bicycle awaits visitors entering an exhibit at the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) at 555 Nelson Street. The Roy Arden sculpture, incorporating the spinning fabric wheel suspended over a hub and spoke design, is an appropriate symbol. CAG is a hub in the Vancouver arts scene and its spokes are the public, the artistic and business communities.  These add strength and stability to its movement.

“Part of the mandate of being a public gallery is that we’re very open, and very accessible,” said CAG executive director Nigel Prince. “There’s a job that needs to be done to continually expand and enlarge that audience through a whole platform of events and activities that make up our program as a whole, one of those being the exhibitions that we host in the space here.”

Other CAG programs include workshops and art outreach programs, with partnerships being built with schools and universities.

“We’re a publicly funded gallery," Prince added. "That support represents about 30 percent of our turnover each year.” 

The remainder of the support comes from financial contributions from the public and business community. A further, invaluable contribution comes from the CAG’s team of volunteers and its volunteer board, who donate their time and expertise to the gallery.

“It’s incredibly exciting whenever we open a new show at the CAG to see the artistic community getting together, and there’s a sense of pride that comes with providing a forum for younger artists. That’s really satisfying,” said board member Bruce Haden. “The CAG has had an informal role as a coming-out occasion for many of Vancouver’s most capable artists.”

Haden, a principal at architecture and design firm DIALOG, also spoke of the importance of giving back to the arts. “We all have the same amount of time, and I think the reality is with volunteer work, generally most people in the business world exclusively give with their money [to] have a sense of contribution. I don’t think that contributions on the volunteer level are irrelevant to one’s progress in the business world,” alluding to how this type of volunteerism can help build and strengthen a positive reputation within the commercial community.  

“There's a group called Volunteer Vancouver that is available to suggest openings in organizations looking for things like board participation, but it’s important to remember that serving on boards is not the only mechanism that people can help through. At the end of the day, there’s almost always a shortage of great volunteers, and if you’re interested in any particular institution, I would contact that institution directly,” said Haden.

Aside from time and resources, there are other skills possessed by the business community that can benefit organizations like the CAG. “In business, I’m more of a marketing person and I find that everything is about creativity” explained Ross Hill of Ray Rickburn Menswear and Blue Ruby Jewellery, who currently serves as the CAG’s board President.

Of course the dissemination of creativity and new ideas is not a one-way street, and many people who contribute to the arts community gain a sense of vitality and inspiration. “Being involved with the gallery exposes you to a lot of younger people and their creativity,” noted Hill. “As you age, I find that your ideas and your way of looking at things will naturally age, with you so it’s always important, especially if your business caters to younger people, that you try to stay a bit more youthful in your orientation. Being involved in art forces you to keep an open mind.”

Overall, the goal of volunteers like Haden and Hill is to help raise public awareness of the CAG and to strengthen it as a resource for the public. The gallery on Nelson Street, which offers free admission, is open from 12-6pm Wednesday through Sunday.

More information about their programs and private tours can be found at The exhibit featuring Vancouver artist Roy Arden continues until March 27th, with new exhibits opening on April 5th.

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