With only months to go before the expected completion of the Audain Art Museum (AAM), anticipation in Whistler's cultural community has been building to an epic crescendo. But there is perhaps nobody more excited for the ribbon to be cut at the state-of-the-art facility, which will house real estate magnate and philanthropist Michael Audain's extensive collection of historical and contemporary Canadian art, than the museum's first-ever chief curator.
"I feel like a little kid, even though it's not a Lego set," says Darrin Martens, only days after being named to the position. "This is a brand new space and bringing life to that space is what I'm challenged with."
Martens comes to Whistler by way of Greenville, B.C., where he spent the last two years at another start-up museum, the Nisga'a Museum. A graduate of the University of Regina, Martens has been working in museums for almost 25 years, including stints at the West Vancouver Museum, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Burnaby Art Gallery.
"Handling and working with art was something I wanted to do from a very early age," he adds.
Although he's been on the job officially for less than a week, Martens has already thought about the direction he wants to take one of Canada's most anticipated cultural facilities.
"I'm really looking forward to looking at ways in which we can continue the dialogue that the Audain art collection has begun and focusing on specific elements of that collection to explore a little bit deeper," he explains.
Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa are spending upwards of $30 million to build a museum that will house a permanent collection of British Columbian art that spans over 200 years of history. It will include one of the most significant collections of work by iconic B.C. artist Emily Carr in the country, with more than 20 paintings on display, as well as a selection of 19th century Northwest Coast aboriginal masks and celebrated photo-based art from Vancouver. Thanks to a donation in October by Vancouver-based collectors Jacques Barbeau and wife Marguerite Owen, the museum will also be home to 15 paintings by esteemed B.C. landscape artist E.J. Hughes.
"Yoshi and Michael have set a very high standard for visual arts in this province through this collection and building this museum, and I find that extremely inspirational and something to really aspire to," Martens says.
The AAM will also accommodate temporary exhibitions from leading international museums, and Martens is already considering his options.
"(I hope to) work with premier institutions like the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery and numerous other international art museums that can bring that sort of high-calibre art and exhibitions to Whistler... to really develop that critical eye and expand on what and how the art of British Columbia fits into a larger dialogue, not just Canadian, but also internationally," he says.
Closer to home, Martens is also hoping to work with the Sea to Sky's artistic community in a variety of ways.
"I want to build capacity not only for artists in Whistler... but look at ways to carry on building capacity for the corridor and how we can engage artists, whether it's through the creative process or whether it's through a series of different programming initiatives, be they more hands-on or through a lecture series," he says.
More than anything, Martens says he wants the 5,200-square-metre (56,000 square feet) museum to not only develop into one of the country's elite artistic hubs, but also serve as a cultural asset that truly belongs to the community it's housed in.
"This is an art museum for everyone, and it's important that we reach out to the various communities in and around Whistler to make people feel that this is their museum and they have an ownership in it as well," he says.
Now Martens is in the process of relocating to Whistler and he looks forward to becoming a part of his new hometown.
"Living up there year-round I'll be able to be a part of the community and have a better understanding of what is Whistler, who is in Whistler and why and what are the different ways we can engage people, whether that's in the museum or outside the museum," he says. "Becoming part of the community is a critical component to taking this position and that's one of the things I'm looking forward to over the next few months."
Visit www.audainartmuseum.com for more information.