The world comes to GPAG’s digital door

Gibsons Public Art Gallery (GPAG) has unexpectedly attracted international attention with its COVID-19-related online exhibit, Creative Expression During Social Distancing. 

Since the launch of the project in April, there have been 117 entries from 78 artists in seven countries, including Canada, the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, and Japan, GPAG said in a new release. “Artists ranged in ages from three to over 80,” it noted. 

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The virtual exhibition has been open to all artists, with an invitation to express how their lives and the lives of others “have been drastically altered” as “our community, our country and the world struggles to respond to this ubiquitous pandemic.” 

Response to the call was good from the start, with more than two-dozen submissions in the first few weeks, mostly from Sunshine Coast artists. Then word spread and the international entries started to arrive, and not just as images of paintings, but also of bas relief, and sketches, plus photographs and videos. 

GPAG board vice-president Ashley Sager and Gibsons artist and GPAG board member Paula O’Brien produced the exhibit. O’Brien told Coast Reporter she wasn’t sure how creators around the world found it, but she suspected Facebook was a big factor. 

“I guess they were just looking around [on the Internet] for COVID exhibitions. And then they found it and they said, ‘Well, I’ll also send my piece,’” O’Brien said. 

Contributing artists were also asked to send in notes along with their works, expressing something about their inspiration or intent. Hiroshi Atobe sent in the illustration, Masked Up Fascination. “We are all masked up,” Atobe wrote, “our smiling faces, like flowers, are lost. So, I [made] imitation flowers with complex masks.” 

Local painter Tina Flux noted along with her acrylic Soames Beach that “going outside with my kids in the afternoons has been a daily top priority during COVID-19. It’s an exercise in grounding and I always come home feeling restored… I’ve taken time to be more playful in my landscape paintings.” 

On June 23, the gallery held a small celebration of the exhibit and a prize draw for entrants, giving away four copies of the book, Views of the Salish Sea, by Howard Macdonald Stewart, which had been donated by the Town of Gibsons. Gift-card prizes donated by Gibsons IGA and More Café and Bakeshop were also awarded. 

“The exhibit is a great idea to recognize that we were in an emergency situation, a pandemic, and that it needed to be chronicled,” said Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish, who had the honour of randomly drawing the names of the winners. “I hope that the product will be saved for the future.” 

Indeed, it will. The show, which is still open for submissions and viewable on the website (, will be stored in GPAG’s online archive, and also retained by Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives. 

“We are collecting digital images of the artwork created for this project,” said the museum’s Matthew Lovegrove. “Those images will go into an archival collection, essentially as a way to document the stories of COVID.” 

GPAG president Leslie Thomson, who hosted the prize draw, noted that the inspiration for the exhibit came from local artist Bodhi Drope, who was also on hand for the June 23 event. 

“It was just a flash,” said Drope of how the idea came to him. “I was very pleased that Paula [O’Brien] and Ashley [Sager] stepped forward. Having an idea is one thing, seeing it realized, that’s something totally different.”

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