By John Hopkins, Guest opinion
Confederation Centre Library
If a new library location was found, as currently being explored, this existing present space would be the perfect opportunity for the province to finally open a P.E.I. Provincial Art Gallery. Hilda Woolnough, in her years of cultural advocacy and industry on P.E.I., had always suggested this is the ideal space if it were to become available some day. Located in the heart of Charlottetown’s cultural spaces area, it’s a natural cultural and economic fit supporting the evolution for downtown Charlottetown and P.E.I.’s key attractions. We are currently the only province in Canada without a provincial art gallery.
And what a great time to establish such arts and culture facility: this would be an excellent tourism draw for the 2014 or in time for the 2017 celebrations. Most importantly it would provide Islanders with a proper institution to celebrate our distinct Island cultural heritage from the famed works of Robert Harris to exhibitions of P.E.I. best and most prolific artists living and working in P.E.I. today. Such a space could accommodation a cafe selling books, DVDs, music CDs, and gifts just like that which exists at Ontario’s Art Gallery of Ontario, along with a cafe and restaurant featuring Island cuisine from all of P.E.I.’s traditional cultures, and those of newcomers. Memberships in the Gallery could be sold as they are at the AGO. It’s perfect location for cruise ship guests to visit and attain an excellent cultural sense of Islanders and the Island.
A provincial gallery full of P.E.I. finest artworks would be an excellent and prestigious venue so that dignitaries and guests of the province could tour, celebrate, and see what incredible cultural heritage the Island has to offer. Such a facility would be of immense value to scholars, school children and our educational institutions. Such a provincial institution would go a long way to install pride in all creative things created by Islanders, instilling a proud sense of ourselves and our province. The Confederation Centre is mandated a national gallery, and as such is not a dedicated institution of Island culture, art and artists. For once, P.E.I. can demonstrate that we have a strong culture of our own, rather than be seen as a back eddy to more important places, people, and cultures elsewhere.
It is time that Islanders truly embraced themselves and their culture through artifacts and art created by Islanders and Mi’kmaq First Nations. The art in our provincial art gallery would of course also celebrate and reflect our proud Island history of agriculture, fisheries, tourism, great days of shipbuilding and legacy as the birthplace of Canada as per works by Robert Harris and others. An Acadian section would be an excellent addition, and would tie right in with the promotion of plays such as Gabriel and Evangeline.
P.E.I. will be at the cultural level it deserves and equal in that regard to the rest of Canada’s provinces, all of which have already fully see that value of creating and supporting their own distinct provincial galleries.
John Hopkins, Breadalbane, is an award-winning P.E.I. filmmaker who has worked with director Atom Egoyan and many Canadian film stars.