Busting down the walls of Touchstones

Ambitious new programs aim to attract new eyes to the museum.

This Sunday Touchstones will be offering a yoga class in the gallery currently displaying Wayne King’s artwork. This is part of a larger initiative to find programs that reach outside their typical audience.

Yoga in an art gallery? What’s the deal with that?

“Yoga in gallery and museum programs have been done around the world for about a decade now, and it’s really about opening up the doors to these amazing cultural institutions in a different way,” Touchstones’ executive director Astrid Heyerdahl told the Star.

“How can we throw open the doors in a way where you’re experiencing the art work? We want an experiential atmosphere where you can alter the way you feel about artwork based on your physicality.”

She said if you’re laying on your back or doing a downward dog pose, you’re “literally changing your perspective on the art.” And these yoga classes are only one way they’re hoping to accomplish that they have a crowded list of new programs coming over the course of the next few months.

This Sunday the Touchstones gallery will offer yoga from 9 to 10:30 a.m. as a pilot project, but they’re hoping to ultimately offer it monthly. Heyerdahl first starting researching these initiatives years ago, after reading about a program offered in Australia. Her immediate response: “I have to do this.”

“I tried to start it at Evergreen Cultural Centre where I was working in Coquitlam and it didn’t take off, but in North Vancouver where I was previously it really ramped up. We would have 90, 100 people practicing yoga in the gallery, and it was a really rad vibe.”

And since she’s done it before, she knows the potential pitfalls. In Nelson she’s teamed up with Wild Woods Yoga, and they’ve decided to make the event by donation She wants to make sure to make this something the community can sustain.

“More and more museums are doing these phenomenal programs and not charging for them, or doing it by donation, because people aren’t going to go if you say ‘sign up a month in advance and give me 20 of your hard-earned dollars so I can pay the instructor’.”

Instead, she’d like people to be able to come on a whim and drop a toonie on their way in.

“This is nothing mind-blowing, nothing new, this is something that’s been going on for a long time, but it’s about bringing things that work to this community. We want to draw people here in a way where they want to get involved, and this becomes more of a cultural hub.”

Some of the other things on the horizon include a poetry workshop with Rayya Libeich called Words with Wayne, using King’s artwork as a thematic centre to the event.

“It starts with our core, our museum collection and archives, but then from there the possibilities are endless for how we engage with the public. We want people to look at their lives and their artwork differently.”

She wants the gallery to be “a safe space for cultural and political exploration.”

“We can have challenging conversations about our nation’s history, about death and grief, all these things that are pertinent in our society.”

Heyerdahl said they’re inviting World War II veteran Allan Ramsden to share his experiences as one way of “bringing history to life” on Feb. 12. She’s also interested in further exploring the implications of the Truth and Reconciliation report.

“The specific historic and cultural context of this place is something I’m still learning about. I think it’s really complex and I think it deserves a lot of time and attention. It’s something that’s really on my mind.”

And this is an exciting and daunting time to run a gallery, especially with the election of Donald Trump on the horizon.

“I’m grateful I live in Canada, I really am. I have some friends who are directors of similar-sized institutions in the States and they’re fearful. I have artists who are in the States and there’s fear. It’s not even anxiety, it’s fear.”

And that’s why art and history is more important now than ever.

“We need to understand the value of what we do. Holding a region’s history in your hands is valuable and important work. Showcasing the brilliant work of artists in this space is significant and important. This inspires me to get up every day.”

And she’s got big plans.

“This is just the beginning. We’re trying to get our toes in the water of change. The next step is visioning about how we can move things forward. When we’re living in a world that’s so divisive, lets try to come together in new ways so we can unify.”


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