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Photos: Mobile art gallery makes house calls in Yellowknife

Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife's mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife's mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

A mobile art gallery is turning up outside Yellowknife homes and neighbourhoods during the pandemic, bringing exhibitions to residents during the pandemic.

The Art Gallery of NWT trailer is operated by the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre. Families in Peace River Flats explored the gallery one by one on Thursday afternoon.

“Right now we have a show called Conversations with Clouds,” said Sarah Swan, a board member at the centre, who drove the trailer.

“It’s a really nice, quiet, intimate, and peaceful show about brokenness and healing.”



The exhibition features two artists with NWT connections: Shelley Vanderbyl, who was born in Hay River and now lives in Comox, British Columbia, and emerging artist Becki Petersen, who is new to Yellowknife.

“Shelley layers frescoes with plaster – so she builds up the canvas quite thick with different layers of pigmented plaster, and then she scrapes it away until an image she’s happy with emerges,” explained Swan.

“And she makes tiny, tiny oil paintings on vintage medicine tins, like those old Anacin tins that used to hold pills back in the day. It’s her way of offering these comforting small views to people with mental health issues or with physical ailments or with any sort of sickness, as a way to spread medicine to them.”

To keep the art gallery open during Covid-19, the trailer hosts showings for individual families.



“In the past we’ve really capitalized on big crowds, like the farmers’ market or Hockey Day, or we go to schools with the gallery,” noted Swan. “But since we can’t do that any more, we thought why not do house calls?

“The art inside is so intimate and personal, and it’s really nice way to extend the metaphor of medical care that Shelley uses in her art.”

Everyone’s looking for culture, and places to go see things that they haven’t been able to see for a long time.DOT VANVLIET

House and community calls are taking place throughout May. The schedule won’t be made public as the chief public health officer is concerned the gallery could draw crowds.

Swan said house calls have been so popular – there is already a long waitlist – that the mobile gallery may continue with calls even after the threat of the pandemic has passed.

Dot VanVliet, who lives in Peace River Flats, arranged for the art gallery to visit the neighbourhood. She then emailed her neighbours with its opening hours.

“I thought if we park it in the neighbourhood, everybody in the whole neighbourhood can enjoy it,” she said.

“I think everyone’s looking for culture, and places to go see things that they haven’t been able to see for a long time … so I just thought, let’s bring the art to the people.”



All photos on this page: Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Sarah Swan and her children, Lucy and Nora, hang art in the mobile gallery before opening to Peace River Flats families in May 2020.

A Peace River Flats family steps into the mobile gallery as curator Sarah Swan and her daughters look on from two metres away.

Shelley Vanderbyl, a Hay River-born artist, is one of the featured artists in the mobile gallery.

Vintage medicine tins painted by Shelley Vanderbyl.

Paintings by Becki Petersen fill half of the mobile gallery.

A close-up of the vintage medicine tins painted by Comox-based artist Shelley Vanderbyl.

Alberta Lake, in Jasper, as painted by Shelley Vanderbyl.



Botanical paintings by Becki Petersen.

Sarah Swan prepares the gallery for visitors.

Lucy Swan helps clean up the mobile gallery before it opens to the public.

Nora Swan runs to pet a dog to pass the time as families take turns visiting the mobile art gallery.