A group of prominent B.C. artists have teamed with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation to produce a series of works, an art book and two documentary films to raise awareness of a proposed oil pipeline that could have dire consequences for British Columbia’s coastal rainforests.
Last summer 50 B.C. artists including wildlife painter Robert Bateman, Aboriginal artist Roy Henry Vickers and Whistlerite Chili Thom ventured into the Great Bear Rainforest by boat to portray the stunning natural beauty found on B.C.’s coast and raise awareness of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project that could see 525,000 barrels of oil per day transported through the region.
“British Columbians are already convinced they know this is a bad idea, but what we wanted to do was have people across the country understand that it’s not just radical environmentalists, and it’s not just a few disgruntled First Nations, but it’s two out of three British Columbians and the entire arts community that are very strongly outspoken against this project,” said Brian Falconer, Raincoast’s marine operations project coordinator and organizer of last summer’s Art for an Oil-Free Coast project. Falconer and the Raincoast Foundation are also involved in the ongoing energy board hearings for the Enbridge project, providing peer-reviewed information to decision makers.
As a result of the summer expedition, 60 works in various mediums were produced, with more than two thirds of the pieces already auctioned off at several of the exhibit’s previous stops, with all proceeds going towards Raincoast’s Oil-Free Coast campaign. Some of the donated pieces were of considerable value, like a painting by Bateman, which auctioned for $40,000 and a carving by Craig Benson, sold for $50,000.
A 160-page hardcover art book, Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast, and an interactive e-book of the same name have also been produced, and a documentary, Reflections followed the artists on their trip and offers viewers a glimpse into the pristine wilderness they sought to capture.
Seeing the artists at work was an exhilarating experience for Falconer, who has been travelling through the province’s coastal rainforests as a researcher and commercial mariner for 35 years.
“It was absolutely amazing to be around that kind of emotional and creative energy. So many fine artists in one place, the synergy of that and the creative energy was amazing,” he said. “Every artist absolutely contributed their A-game and were very inspired by the place, so the works are some of the best that they’ve done.”
The multi-pronged awareness campaign spearheaded by the Raincoast Foundation was a way for the research organization to cast a wider net than usual, reaching more Canadians across the country.
“A lot of traditional protest campaigns and other forms of activism have the potential to really shut out a large portion of society, whereas everybody loves art,” said participating artist and singer-songwriter Mae Moore. “It’s just another way of making the message clear and bringing those people onside, or at least if we can’t get them onside, then subconsciously affecting them. Art has always moved people.”
Getting a firsthand look into how essential B.C.’s 7.6-million hectares of coastal rainforest are to the surrounding wildlife and the livelihood of the area’s First Nations like the Kitasoo and Xai’xais, who offered accommodation to the artists, was a life-changing experience for many involved in the project, and helped to cement their opposition to the proposed Enbridge pipeline.
“You can read so much and you can see pictures and everything, but actually being there … completely solidified my viewpoint on it as being the worst idea ever and I want to do everything I possibly can to raise awareness to stop it,” said Whistler artist Chili Thom.
The second leg of the Art for an Oil-Free Coast exhibition tour kicks off in Whistler from Monday (March 4) to next Saturday (March 10) in the Scotia Creek Gallery at Millennium Place. An opening reception will be held Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Millennium Place, after which Reflections and another documentary produced by the Raincoast Foundation, Groundswell, will be screened. Groundswell shows high-profile surfers embarking on an adventure into B.C.’s coastal wilderness, highlighting the region’s fragile and awe-inspiring beauty. Admission is by donation.
The artworks that have yet to be auctioned off are available for purchase at www.raincoast.org, as well as copies of Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast.