Representing Canmore through art

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CANMORE – For hundreds of years the humble canoe was the backbone of Canadian transportation as voyageurs used it to transport furs across this vast land. 

Now, even though the canoe is less used for transportation, it’s importance as a symbol of the journey we all take is still powerful.

For Lesley Russell, that journey is the central theme of her upcoming exhibit at artsPlace called Community Gathering. A continuation of the project Spirit of the Community started last year, Community Gathering gives Russell the chance to expand and deepen the public piece. 

Spirit of the Community was a large red canoe in which Russell inscribed the names of over 700 Canmore families, while the Community Gathering piece is about adding the ability for people who were missed the first time around to come and be represented. 

Opening at artsPlace on Sept. 7 with a free wine and cheese evening, Community Gathering invites all residents of Canmore to come to artsPlace and add their name. There is room on the walls of the exhibition for residents to place their name along a timeline, as well as tell where they’ve come from, with the goal of creating a visual timeline of Canmore’s history.  

“By the time the exhibition ends, I’m hoping it will be a real full and vibrant representation of what our community is, where we’ve all travelled from and when we all came,” said Russell.

“I’m imagining that timeline, because it goes from 1880 where it’ll be quite quiet and then all of a sudden it will go crazy. It will visually show the flow of the population into Canmore as well.”

For Russell, community has always been at the heart of her work. Graduating from Dundee University in Scotland with a degree and a master’s in fine art, she has been a strong advocate for accessible arts pieces. 

“When Spirit of the Community was made for Canada 150, I wanted to pare it down to what was really important to the area, and that for me is the people. It’s the people – as much as we have these beautiful mountains and we’re super lucky – that make it special and they really bring that passion and vigor and excitement to this place.

“Community Gathering takes that same idea and develops it to a larger concept in giving the community an ability to interact with it themselves. It’s going to be an interactive piece, it’s going to be a larger piece that involves the community.”

An immigrant to Canada herself, that level of access is important to Russell. When she thinks about the changes in town over the last 20 years, she believes its passion is what makes it so great and that passion remains undiminished. 

“To me, it has the same heart as it did 20 years ago, which is very nice. Canmore still has the same heart it always had, it’s still passionate. It’s passionate about the town, it’s passionate about what happens.”

Russell intends for the central canoe to be auctioned off after the exhibition period in order to raise money for the Discover Art Fund at artsPlace. According to Russell, artsPlace has been a wonderful addition to Canmore, and she is grateful for the ability to build the piece in her adopted home. 

“It’s a perfect resource for the community. To give someone like me that chance to have this expression, I’d have had to go to Calgary otherwise and it wouldn’t have been a Canmore piece then.”

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Brandon Wilson