Chili Thom is well known among Whistler locals and international art lovers as the fiery-haired sparkplug who injects life into any form of art he creates. Famous for his paintings, DJ talents and videography, Thom has now decided to donate his time and talents to raising money in an effort to protest the construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
On June 18, Thom will be on the first of five boats that will carry 50 B.C. artists along the proposed pipeline tanker route. Other participating artists include Robert Bateman, Robert Davidson and Carol Evans.
Thom will embark on the Maple Leaf for six days, taking notes and snapping photographs in order to gain inspiration to create a painting of the area. He and each of the other artists will develop a piece of work inspired by the journey through Hecate Strait and donate all proceeds from the sale of their work to fund the expedition and promote awareness of the negative effects the pipeline could have on B.C.’s coastal waters.
“I was just up in Haida Gwaii last summer and it’s really a stunning and beautifully untouched area,” recalled Thom. “I realized how much life could be destroyed if there was a spill — which seems inevitable if this pipeline is to be constructed. My goal is to use my art to help raise money and awareness to prevent that from happening.”
Enbridge’s proposed $5.5 billion pipeline would transport crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta, through the heart of the Great Bear Rainforests, extending to Kitimat on the B.C. coastline. Enbridge and proponents of the pipeline say it would open up the Alberta oil sands to China and other oil-hungry Asian markets, as well as the U.S. west coast, potentially making oil one of Canada’s largest exports. However, despite the potential added revenue, Thom said he hopes Canadians put mother nature first.
“As far as I see it, we would be shipping the crude product in its simplest form. It’s better if we keep it in Canada, create jobs and pay our people to refine it and generate products from it,” he said. “Aside from this, I’m completely opposed to the pipeline because the potential risk of harm to the environment trumps all.
“We have to start cleaning up our planet and that starts with making smart, clean decisions.”
The expedition has been aptly named Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil Free Coast. Organizer and Tofino artist Mark Hobson said the goal of the project is to bring international attention to the fragile diversity of B.C.’s coastal wilderness that could be at risk if tankers are permitted to ship tar sands oil through the narrow channels of the north and central coast.
“These tankers are several tonnes larger than the Exxon Valdez and if a spill were to occur from one of these massive ships, the oil could spread the entire length of the B.C. coast and parts of Alaska,” Hobson said. “The Hecate Straight is considered the fourth most dangerous body of water on the planet due to frequent storms and strong currents. The chances of something going wrong are too risky.”
All of the sketches, field notes and finished pieces of work from each artist will also be collected and compiled into a coffee table book. The book will be on sale to the public on Nov. 16, and Hobson, along with his team of artists, will travel with the book through B.C., Alberta and Ontario, lobbying against the pipeline.
Thom isn’t the only Whistlerite standing up against the pipeline. This summer, Kim Slater will be running the same length as Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, speaking with community leaders to capture and share their stories. Her goal is to explore tar sands alternatives and promote awareness about how the pipeline could affect B.C.’s northern communities. Stay tuned to The Question for more on her initiative.
For more information about Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil Free Coast visit www.raincoast.org/artists-for-an-oil-free-coast.