Lucas Glenn Okanagan Artist-Run Centres and Their Use of Regional Terrain as an Access Point to Social Narratives

As globalization progresses, regional focus in art becomes a more and more curious project. In our ever-connected world, regionalism may become increasingly relevant as communities try to carve out and assert a local identity.

When pinpointing creative currents in the Okanagan, it’s vital to reference institutions exclusively operated by artists. There are at least three artist-run centres in the Okanagan: Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo, Penticton’s Ullus Collective, and Kelowna’s Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art (the region’s largest).

While the Okanagan is rife with conservative and commercial artwork, artist-run centres exist in stark contrast. In facilitating public spectacles like parades and protests, encouraging creative endeavours for Interior Salish artists, and incubating contemporary art, artistic practices in the Okanagan have always been radically distinct from those of the region’s urban counterparts.

Because ambitious artists tend to seek confirmation, opportunity, and approval, there is a strong pull of the Okanagan’s artistic energy toward Vancouver. Answering to this outward pull is a primary function for local artist-run centres. In each centre’s mandate is the call to provide opportunities for emerging artists, as well as to build local arts communities.

As such, a compelling trend among Okanagan artists is their use of the local terrain as an access point to social topics in the region. For instance, Tracey Kim Jack of Penticton’s Ullus Collective was featured prominently in Fault Lines, a 2008 series of video works commissioned by the Alternator Centre. Jack’s piece, Bloodlines, was filmed on Syilx territory in southern Okanagan and uses a multimedia format to juxtapose sacred land with modern obstacles to tell a story connected to her territory. In a similar fashion, the Ullus Collective’s Mariel Belanger and Victoria Baptiste created I Hear My Granny Speak and Sundress’ Vision, films that employ local landscapes to tell stories of time, technology, and cultural journey.

Many of these ideas harken back to the emergence of EcoArt in the 1990s. While environmental art traditionally focused on sustainability and nature, the subcategory of EcoArt specifically emphasized situ above all else and had a greater vein of social justice as opposed to simply sustainability. As recorded in the Alternator’s Interior Motives parts one (1996) and two (1998), nearly all of its programming from 1996 to ’98 could be classified as EcoArt. A driving movement for artistic practice in the Okanagan, EcoArt continues to thrive today.

Valley 2000, held at the Kelowna Art Gallery, was a photographic milestone at the turn of the millennium, exhibiting a compendium of the Okanagan’s best contemporary photographers. Acting as a compelling historical document, the exhibition included an archive of five hundred snapshots from the region’s amateur photographers. A project initiated by prominent local artists, Valley 2000 focused on the Okanagan’s physical and cultural landscape, standing as a testament to EcoArt’s prosperity in the Okanagan.

In the same year, a collaboration between the Independent Media Arts Alliance and the Alternator Centre featured work by Jayce Salloum, Dana Claxton, and Henry Tsang. Tsang’s film Napa North (2008) documents Osoyoos viticulture, industry insiders, and Osoyoos Indian Band elder Modesta Stelkia Betterton (who translated her band’s real estate and viticulture promotional materials from English to N’syilxcen). The result is a narrative of influence between regional terrain, tradition, and economy. Similar are video works in the compilation Under Arid Conditions (2002), depicting the Okanagan’s geography and climate to reveal local issues of monoculture and marginalization.

The Okanagan has an artistic history rooted in its landscapes. While at times constrictively insular, this has served as a fundamental access point to understanding the region’s cultural landscapes. The appended artist-run centre publications exemplify that the region has provided physical terrain vital to the exploration of cultural narratives, socioeconomic impact, and troublesome social systems.

Reading List

Armstrong, Jeannette C., Robert Mackenzie, Duane Thomson et al. Valley 2000: A Photographic Record of Life in the Okanagan. Kelowna: Kelowna Art Gallery, 2001.

Brennan, Maev. “Grunt Gallery Curator Likes OAA’s Efforts.” Kelowna Capital News, September 1, 1990.

Buchholz, Lara and Ulf Wuggenig. “Cultural Globalization between Myth and Reality: The Case of the Contemporary Visual Arts.” ART-E-FACT, no. 4, December 2005,

Lippard, Lucy R. “All Over the Place.” In The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, 4–8. New York: New Press, 1997.

Priegert, Portia, ed. Gridding the Landscape. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2003. Brochure published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, April 25–May 31, 2003.

Holubizky, Ihor. “Radical Regionalism, Local Knowledge, and Making Places.” In Radical Regionalism: Local Knowledge and Making Places, 7–19. London, ON: Museum London, 2006.

MacHardy, Carolyn and Portia Priegert. An Interrupted Journey. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2000.

McParland, Lorna and Lucas Glenn. Alternator 2015 Programming Brochure. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2015.

Macklem, Jennifer. D’est en ouest : un projet d’échange et d’exposition avec la participation de 9 artistes du Québec et de la Colombie-Britannique / West in East: An Exchange Exhibition Series Featuring 9 Artists from Quebec and British Columbia. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 1997.

Murchie, John, Chief Robert Louie, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. On Common Ground Program. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2008.

Lowry, Glenn. “Terroir/as in Translation.” In Edges of Diversity, edited by Jennifer Pickering, 3–9. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2008.

Oakes, Julie. “Breasts Protest Anonymous” (artist statement). Kelowna: self-published, 1993.

Pearson, Gary. “Alternative Art Scene Still Unseen.” Kelowna Capital News, October 24, 1990.

Pierre, Marcel and Art Contemporain Verticale. Unstable Motion. Kelowna: Alternator Gallery, 2000.

Priegert, Portia and Jeannette C. Armstrong. DVD brochure essay. Fault Lines. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2008.

Proskow, Deborah. Our Home and Native Landscape. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2003. Brochure published for the exhibition of the same name, January 10–February 22, 2003.

Robatzek, Kristine. “Tim Watkins’ Installation ‘A Drift’, July 16–Aug 26, 1998, at the Alternator Gallery.” Daily Courier (Kelowna), July 1, 1998.

Salloum, Jayce and Khadim Ali. Bamiyan: The Heart that Has No Love/Pain/Generosity Is Not a Heart. Toronto: SAVAC, 2010.

Shirley, Maggie. “Scale InSight” (artist statement). Kelowna: self-published, 2012.

Sivak, Allison and Victoria Moulder. Interior Motives (Part One). Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Arts, 1996.

Sivak, Allison. Interior Motives (Part Two). Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Arts, 1998. Selected pages: 1–3.

Szoke, Donna. Under Arid Conditions. Edited by Portia Priegert. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Arts, 2002.

Wetjen, Andre. “The Art Connection.” Daily Courier (Kelowna), April 1, 1998.

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