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If you build it, they will dance

The Guild has become a Sea to Sky art success, one music festival at a time

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Anyone who attended the late, lamented Pemberton Music Festival in 2016 will remember the trees.

They rose in a kind of wooden, junkyard splendour in front of the gateway entrance to the festival grounds, large planks of wood and material transformed into a stand of whimsical, artificial palm trees.

It was one of 13 monumental artworks made by The Guild, a collective of Sea to Sky and Vancouver artists that grew out of the Bass Coast Music and Arts Festival in Merritt.

The Guild, now in its second year, is taking off at festivals around North America.

"We do scenics for stages and site art, and we're now branching into more corporate installations," says Liz Thomson, who co-founded both Bass Coast and The Guild.

"We basically create large abstract impressionist pieces for any venue. We focus on using upcycled materials — not creating waste is one of our core values.

"Some of our artists come from film. Some build timber-frame houses. We've all come together because there is an opportunity to make a living off of making art."

The Whistler resident is just recovering from Bass Coast 2017, and over coffee she says it was a very good year, thanks to the boom in the festival industry (certain Sea to Sky music festivals notwithstanding).

"The first stage I ever did for Bass Coast was a living stage. It had lettuce and carrots and you could eat the stage as you danced," Thomson recalls.

Other concepts this summer include the ramshackled Pirate Radio Stage, the psychedelic lighting of the Slay Bay stage, and the tentacle mainstage from Bass Coast. Their creations have also made it to festivals in Georgia, Oregon and Florida.

The installations and stages start life as figments of Thomson's busy imagination, then she 3D models the ideas.

"You often don't see it come to life until you are on site, because a lot of it is audiovisual and you need the lighting kit to illuminate it before you see how it works," Thomson says.

"Art is risky, because artists are proud. Your name is more important than the bottom line and budgets can be blown trying to get it right."

She says that the difference between a concert and a festival is the inclusion of art — which more event producers are coming to understand.

"The Guild was organically launched because of the need for a company to facilitate that art at Bass Coast. We were getting so many inquiries," Thomson says.

"So now I am just trying to look into which (festivals) align with our core values the most. We get approached by large festivals like Pemberton that I could see self-imploding."

She co-founded The Guild in 2015 with engineer Andor Tari, who oversees the construction of the projects.

Local artists involved include Dave Petko and Jay Christiansen.

Thomson explains that money is not usually made in the first year an installation is created, but in future reinstallations at festivals.

"It's really expensive, especially when you factor in flying in a crew, feeding them," she says.

"We factor over a three-year term (of use). Pemberton really hurt us because we paid for the first year in 2016 and we were supposed to re-install it and would have made our money back. We lost money. It taught me a lot about which clients I want to work with. We're trying to align ourselves with sustainable festivals."

Bass Coast has given out more than $100,000 in arts grants, Thomson says. Anyone with an artistic idea can apply when applications go online in January 2018, with $15,000 in funding up for grabs.

The program led to 52 art installations at Bass Coast this summer.

"They can be large or small ideas. If you have a good idea, you fill in the application and if you are accepted you receive funding and free tickets to the festival," Thomson says.

"It creates an art exhibit inside Bass Coast."

The Guild's work has not yet appeared in Thomson's hometown. She hopes it won't be too long before Whistler festivalgoers will be puzzling over or enjoying her work.

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