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Community Arts Council of Fort St. James celebrates 45 years

An open house will be held Nov. 25 at Pope Mountain Arts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Community Arts Council of Fort St. James has been working in our community since 1979 to promote and support the arts. It is hard to believe 45 years has gone by for the organization.

The society was originally incorporated February 07, 1979.

Elizabeth Halleran was the president, David Pauquette was vice-president, Lorrie Green was the secretary, Malcolm Hurd was the treasurer, Veronica Paques was a director along with Gail Hooke.

Halleran, a piano teacher, along with a small group of dedicated people had the vision of a cultural society.

The goal was to increase and broaden opportunities for the residents of the Fort St. James area to enjoy and participate in cultural activities. I joined the council in the fall of 1979.

Halleran’s interest was in the classical performing arts. For most performances a piano is needed, so a fund-raising campaign was launched. Takla Forests Products, owned by Canfor, Reed Paper, and a German company donated to the Grand Piano Fund at the time. Thanks to their support a Kawai Baby Grand Piano was purchased. This piano now lives in the Fort St. James Community Hall after many years of being housed in a locked box on the stage of Fort St. James Secondary School.

Through the years the arts council sponsored a minimum of three professional performing arts groups, the majority performed in the old gym venue.

The types of performances gradually began to expand from classical to include any professional touring artist group. To name a few outstanding artists: we sponsored the full-fledged “Cinderella Ballet” by the Alberta Ballet Company, the Chilean group of Ancient Cultures, Michael Kaeshammer (Jazz pianist), The Wizard of Oz by the Missoula Children’s Theatre, and Charlotte Diamond (at the time a very well-known children’s performer). The council was always looking for inclusion of the youth to foster the importance of the arts. Communication and entertainment were different in those first 10-15 years, and our audiences were a mix of all ages.

Performing arts led to visual arts. The arts council hosted traveling art shows, writer’s and painting workshops, and a three day “Children’s Art in the Park” under a circus tent.

Norm Dagenais approached the arts council with the idea of organizing a bluegrass festival. From this idea - The Cottonwood Music Festival was born. This festival was the beginning of Music on The Mountain.

When the old courthouse was closed and the District of Fort St James had to make a decision of what to do with the old building, the Community Arts Council formed a committee and went to work on an Arts Centre. It has taken many grant applications, hard work of volunteers, and 3 different coordinators to create a successful, vibrant community space in Pope Mountain Arts.

Mary Willick, president, Jo Anne Alexander, PMA coordinator, and volunteers carry on the legacy of this small but mighty organization.

The arts council is hosting an open house to celebrate their 45 year anniversary at Pope Mountain Arts on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Pope Mountain Arts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be refreshments, tours, demos and entertainment.

Monica Grill has always been interested in the arts, something she said was probably fostered in her by her mom through dance. When she came to Fort St. James, there wasn’t a lot of organized art in the community. The arts council provided a range of live arts and culture events, and worked closely with the school district to foster arts for young people. She said over the years, many young people who grew up coming to the arts council events have gone on to careers in the arts.

“I think ultimately it was successful,” said Grill, noting with the focus shifting now more to visual arts and crafts at the Pope Mountain Arts facility, the work will continue.

“It’s great, it’s a vibrant thing now.”