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The Art Room alternative

Artist drop-in night every Tuesday at Whistler Secondary gets creativity spinning



What: The Art Room

When: Every Tuesday

Where: Whistler Secondary

All five potters bow their heads over the spinning wheels. Two friends, Nicol Hazel and Francis LeClerc, chuckle over the somewhat warbling lumps of clay shaping under their fingers.

"It looks like a… mug?" LeClerc says more as a question than an assured statement.

"Just take off the top," another potter down the line suggests to the novice clay bangers who first encountered the medium only four weeks earlier.

Laurie MacCallum’s grey blob emerges as an elegant, pot-bellied vase under hands seasoned with 10 years of pottery workshops in Victoria, Vancouver and Mexico.

"Don’t ask me what it is," another artist, Stephanie Jutras, says cutting off the inevitable question.

"It’s art," said attendee Denise Hughes, summing up the heart of The Art Room experience.

Members of the local spinning group are regulars at the Tuesday-evening drop-in artist night, between 6:15 and 9:15 p.m. at The Art Room at Whistler Secondary School. However, the evening doesn’t limit the artists to slabs of clay: screen-printing, painting and drawing are a few of the other activities the casual walk-in art space provides.

For almost a year the Tuesday-night art room, originally spearheaded by Barb Hirano, has provided a space for artists to create and explore – a much needed space with constrained living spaces the norm in Whistler.

"I would love to have a wheel, but where would I put it in an apartment in Whistler," Jutras said. "This is a good alternative and the wheels here are very good."

Participants are free to explore new art forms or build on ones already part of their palate. Artists are invited to bring their own tools of the trade, along with a healthy curiosity.

The social environment is never short on inspiration, tips from neighbouring artists, or feedback on ideas. And, at its most basic level, The Art Room provides space to store large canvases and other works.

"I like the interaction with the different people that come in," Hughs said. "It’s very friendly and inviting. Everyone is very supportive creatively."

What Hazel appreciates most is the alternative the evening provides to Whistler’s otherwise saturated nightclub scene.

"Everybody should check this out," Hazel said. "There should be more programs like this. It gives people something else to do in the evenings besides going out and drinking."

The group interacts with one another, with suggestions and questions flying about. One girl asks what she should make next. "How about a Valentines present?" someone offers. The girl made Christmas presents last month.

"You can play and experiment with the printing press and walk away with a product that night," said Theresa Mura, The Art Room’s artist host. "It’s great to come out with something you made as a gift or something to throw change in."

The non-instructional environment keeps the evening a casual and social setting.

"People here are not experts, but willing to share what they know," said Stephanie Coughlin of the municipality’s Parks and Recreation Department, which runs the program.

With an $8.50 drop in fee and an additional $10 for half a bag of clay for the pottery wheel option, the low cost and encouragement to try something new is a big draw of The Art Room.

"Getting set up with a studio, kiln and potter's wheel is pretty expensive, especially if you are just learning," MacCallum said. "Here at least you get to see what others are doing, get ideas and have the equipment here for you."

MacCallum will host a six-week pottery class on Thursday evenings, exploring everything from hand building – using slabs of clay with stamps and molds – and wheelwork. The class is one of six workshops being offered. Other courses to choose from include oil painting and tile making.

"The Art Room was created from passion for the artist to come in and play in a fun environment," Coughlin said.

The drop-in night is available to everyone. For more information, call 604-902-1433.