November 18, 2021
[Image Description: A white woman with blue eyes and dark brown shoulder-length hair stands in front of a brick wall. She is wearing earrings and a yellowish-orange jacket. The image of the person is photoshopped onto a background of light pink and blue paint.]
The ArtStarts Gallery closure over the past two years has given our team the opportunity to reimagine what is possible. One of the key questions guiding our imagination is how we can make the Gallery more accessible and engaging for everyone.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Gallery Preparator Kay Slater seamlessly transitioned our weekly Explores programming online and launched Our Province at Play. They also led the organization in prioritizing accessibility.
2022 will be a year of changes for ArtStarts programming. As we transition back to in-person offerings, it is important to continue integrating accessibility into how we deliver programs. Alyssa Martens recently joined ArtStarts as Program Manager of Public Programs. She's leading our efforts to develop exciting new programming and opportunities while continuing to prioritize accessibility.
Please join us in welcoming Alyssa to the ArtStarts team, and learn more about what inspires her commitment to expanding the role of art in education, and our vision for the Gallery in 2022.
ArtStarts: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Alyssa: I am a white Brazilian settler living as an uninvited guest on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. My maiden last name is Harms-Wiebe, a combination of both my mother’s and father’s surnames. I think it’s an identifier for the equal partnership mentality that I grew up witnessing. I was raised with the privilege of not defaulting to the limitations society puts on women, and this perspective has largely affected how I interact with the world. Today, I continue to challenge the spoken and unspoken defaults that disproportionately affect made-to-be-vulnerable communities. As an artist and educator, I believe it’s part of my role in society to contribute to reimagining how we can co-exist in a better way.
What is your role at ArtStarts?
Alyssa: As Program Manager of Public Programs, I curate experiences in the ArtStarts Gallery for families and young audiences that focus on inquiry-based and place-based learning opportunities. I also provide leadership for ArtStarts’ public programs and our artist-in-residence program.
ArtStarts: Can you tell us about plans for ArtStarts' 2022 Gallery and Public Programs?
2022 will be a fun and dynamic year for our gallery and public programs! The pandemic has also shown us that our programs are more accessible when we increase virtual learning opportunities to the entire province. As such, we are working toward hosting our programs both in-person and online on a permanent basis. To this end, we will be kicking off the year with a site-specific exhibition in a location—soon to be revealed!—outside of our gallery space. We will also be launching virtual exhibition experiences on our ArtStarts website, which will increase access to our exhibitions to the entire province.
Tell us about a formative or impactful arts experience.
Alyssa: When I was a teen, I moved from São Paulo to Abbotsford, BC. It was quite an intense culture-shock, to say the least, moving from a Latin megacity to a suburban community. When I arrived, I felt quite awkward in my own skin—quite literally, because I am white and most people assumed that I was from the Fraser Valley and questioned the gaps in my English vocabulary and local knowledge. At my high school, I enrolled in a theatre class led by a wonderfully charismatic teacher. In that space, I suddenly felt like I could express myself by playing and being vulnerable through different characters. I gained a lot of confidence through the performing arts, and later studied theatre directing and writing during my BFA at Concordia University. My teenage experience continues to inspire my belief that art is essential in developing identity and voice, and I'm grateful to be working at an or ganization driven by the same vision.
Do you have a creative practice?
Alyssa: I am a poet and community-engaged artist with a deep curiosity for how poetry and visual art can animate public spaces. Most of my work focuses on themes of climate justice, identity and place, and eco-feminism. Currently, I’m working on my debut collection of poetry, focusing on themes of environmental decay in the Arctic.
If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
Alyssa: Definitely flight! My favourite places are always high viewpoints, and if I could fly anywhere and everywhere, I’d love to visit all of the highest peaks in the world, and maybe catch some unique viewpoints on top of city skyscrapers. As a kid, I used to always get into trouble for climbing to dangerous heights. So, in honour of my inner child, I wish I could give her the gift of flight.
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