Art gone viral: Unprecedented turnout for Burnaby opening

Passersby who happened along Deer Lake Avenue on Saturday evening can be forgiven for thinking there must have been a big-name rock concert in town. Why else would the thousand or more folks – many of them students and young millennials - lining their way up along on the street have been waiting so patiently for two hours or more?

As it happens, it wasn’t a rock concert. It was an art opening – and one so far out of the ordinary that, come Monday morning, members of the Burnaby Arts Council were still rather flabbergasted by the experience.

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” marvelled Irene McCutcheon, a member of the arts council’s board of directors. “I have never seen that, not even at the Vancouver Art Gallery.”

She turned out early in the evening to check out Luminescence, the latest exhibition at the arts council’s Deer Lake Gallery – featuring the work of 25 artists on the theme of light.

The opening reception was originally intended to run from 7 to 9 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., there were already crowds beginning to line up; by 10 p.m., there were still people standing outside waiting to get in. (I was among them: having staked my place in line at 7:15 p.m., I got through the front doors at about 9:30.) In the end, the arts council kept the doors open until about 10:30 p.m. to allow everyone to enjoy the show.

McCutcheon was thrilled by the number of young people who turned out – and by the fact that all the folks she talked to seemed so taken by the exhibition, which included a wide variety of two- and three-dimensional art of all kinds.

“It was just a delight, really,” she said.

The opening was timed to coincide with the spring equinox, which happened on Saturday evening. For the arts council, the timing proved fortuitous in another way, since the group is currently in the process of making its case to city council that Burnaby could use a new art gallery.

Dave Handelman, another director of the arts council, has been part of the group working on the push for the new gallery.

“A lot of people said that to us, that this shows the need for a new gallery,” he said. “There is obviously a big interest in art in Burnaby.”

Handelman, who proclaimed himself “overwhelmed, thrilled, excited and pleased” by the turnout, believes there were a number of factors that went into the huge interest.

Extensive media coverage, including reporting by CBC and the Burnaby NOW, was part of the recipe for success. Social media, too, played a huge part in it – an event notice on Facebook garnered more than 5,000 responses, including interest from people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of the Deer Lake Gallery. Much of the social media buzz centred around Ron Simmer’s “infinity room,” A Night Walk in Falling Snow – a surreal experience created using mirrors, LED lights and micro-computers.

And there were other fortuitous circumstances – like a beautiful spring day that turned into a clear, warm evening and encouraged people to mingle and enjoy the wait outside.

The arts council doesn’t have an official attendance figure – Handelman notes they were too busy controlling traffic to count it – but he’s certain there were upwards of a thousand people on hand.

“It is a good indicator of the support for art and art galleries in Burnaby,” he said. “If you have a good location and a gallery that has interesting events and is accessible to the public, people will come.”

Luminescence continues at the gallery until April 9. On Saturday, April 2, artist Judson Beaumont - whose pine beetle wood creations also got a lot of chatter going on opening night - will be on hand to talk about his work at 2 p.m.

Check out for more details.

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