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New strokes for TWSSF

State of the Art exhibition returns to original roots of ski, snowboard culture

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The 10 fun-filled days of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival are a transformative time for Whistler: Stages are set up throughout the village, the stroll is bustling with promo people, and the hills come alive with competitors and spectators, all eager to catch the last big air of the season.

Even within the confines of a space like the Telus Whistler Conference Centre, big changes are taking place, as once barren and neutral walls are adorned with bright, edgy artwork, as part of the new State of the Art event.

Kerry Chalmers is the visual arts manager for Watermark Communications, the company that organizes Whistler's ever-popular Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Chalmers has been involved in the festival for four years, but this year, is tackling a whole new challenge for the event: The festival's art gallery.

Formerly known as Brave Art, an outside company used to produce this nine-day exhibit. But this year, Watermark is taking the reins, organizing a new show entitled, State of the Art.

"There were a few different reasons for the shift. I would say, first and foremost... it was time for something new," Chalmers said. "The Ski and Snowboard Festival is about pushing the boundaries, it's about checking out what's new and different and edgy and cool."

The change has allowed Watermark to reconnect the event to the entire roster of TWSSF, bringing it back to the true roots of the festival: music, sport and art.

"When it was produced by the Brave Art team, it came, it arrived, it was successful and then it left," Chalmers said. "But with State of the Art, it's been produced within the context and minds of all team members at the Watermark office."

The artistic focus has also shifted, moving from street and urban art to a widened scope of work by individual artists, companies and brands involved in the ski, snowboard, skate, and surf industries. The show will feature new and established names from the art scene, showcasing over 35 artists in a 150-plus-piece installation that includes canvas, sculpture, photography and graffiti.

"We were aiming to produce a show that was relevant to the festival as a whole and celebrated the art and lifestyle of the festival," Chalmers said.

Westbeach, Endeavour and Sitka brands will be creating exhibits at State of the Art to showcase the artistic process within their own realms. Sitka will explore the art of shaping a surfboard; Westbeach has a 30-year retrospective of the snowboarding industry planned through more traditional mediums, like photography.

Watermark also wanted to see some fresh faces in the show, so they issued an open call for submissions, requiring even returning participants to submit a resume, an artist's statement or bio, along with samples of their work, so organizers could level the playing field and evaluate everyone based on the same criteria.

"Basically, everybody and anybody could submit a package, whether we knew them or not," Chalmers said.

Last year, there were some huge international names in the street art world, like SheOne, Virus and Kwest. But this year, organizers have decidedly focused on more local creative minds and their take on the lifestyle culture that is part of Whistler's identity. The list of local artists includes names like The Incredible Amoeba, Pepe, Lauren Javor, Robin O'Neill, Toni Lewis, and Tifdyl. Tim Barnard, a.k.a. the Sharpie Artist, is also on deck for this year's exhibition. Barnard creates stark, incredibly detailed black and white illustrations using a simple Sharpie marker. He'll be doing live art at the opening reception, and transforming a shrink-wrapped Pontiac Vibe car into a piece of art, which will then be given away at the end of TWSSF. Andrew Pommier and Derrick Hogson, two well-known Canadian artists, are also on the roster, while Nanami Cowdry's work comes all the way from Sydney, Australia to join the show.

"We've tried to make the content in show more layered," Chalmers said. "So, in doing that, some of the art that's coming in has more complex meaning."

But State of the Art definitely isn't an intimidating gallery experience.

"This is very accessible artwork and we want it to be a really comfortable experience for people, so we don't have sales associates on-hand who are going to accost you, we have gallery associates who are there to host you and make you feel comfortable," she explained.

But if you are in the market for some unique, vibrant lifestyle culture - some of which is crafted right here in Whistler - most pieces will be for sale.

"The show sells out every year, so if you are interested, it's good to come earlier," Chalmers said.

One thing that hasn't been changed is the big party that launches the exhibition each year.

The opening reception will be held on Saturday, April 18, starting at 8 p.m., with New York-based DJ Dom Rockit manning the DJ booth. 90 per cent of exhibiting artists will be on-hand during the free, unticketed evening, some creating live art and others, mingling with guests and art lovers alike.

"I personally think it's the best free event at the festival, if not the best free event in town all year," Chalmers said with a laugh.

State of the Art runs from Saturday, April 18 until Saturday, April 25, from noon until 6 p.m. daily, and from 8 p.m. until late during gala ticketed evenings.