The exhibition, “Welcome / Home” is a partnership between the Penticton Art Gallery and the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS) and their Welcoming Communities program which serves the citizens of Penticton and the surrounding area. The Welcoming Communities program is an initiative designed to develop our area as an inclusive community that welcomes, sustains and supports immigrants to Canada recognizing that they provide a positive contribution to our community, both economically and socially. Approximately one in every five Canadians is a foreign-born resident.
The title, “Welcome / Home”, reflects the complicated relationship immigrants have between the place they have left behind and the community in which they are working to settle into and make their new home. For this exhibit, we put out a call to artists living in the South Okanagan inviting them to meet with a recent immigrant to our community with the goal of creating a work of art in partnership with or individually which documents and records the immigrant experience. The object of the exercise is two fold: first to provide insight into the world each immigrant left behind and the world they are trying to embraceand second, to connect these immigrants with individuals in the community outside of their own who will in turn help introduce them to an even wider community.
In some cases the participating artists are themselves immigrants and they have are also invited to submit a work which details their own experience of moving to Canada. These additional works will add even greater richness to the exhibition, providing additional insight into the immigrant experience and the reality of the sacrifices one makes in leaving their country of birth in the hope of a better life elsewhere. In reality we are all immigrants to this country and one cannot forget the original inhabitants of this land. Hopefully, a few of the students from the En’owkin Center will lend their voice to the conversation as well. I am excited to see this project and collaboration develop further over the course of the exhibition and beyond. The main challenge up to this point was convincing recent immigrants, whom are themselves dealing with language and cultural barriers, to take a chance and be a part of this project. This exhibition in itself covers our stated mandate and I am hoping that this can serve as a model for future collaborations. Programming that will accompany this exhibition will include a number of public forums to better illuminate the challenges facing this complex issue and will feature the participating artists, members of our local First Nations community, those who have lived here for a while and of course those who have recently arrived here in Canada and the South Okanagan. For this exhibition, the opening will take place on Saturday opposed to our usual Friday night and will feature a celebrating of cultural diversity. The afternoon will open up with our usual artist talk featuring Wryly Andherson & Tyler Witzel, followed by a formal opening in partnership with the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services, Downtown Penticton Association Cultural Appreciation Initiative, representatives of the Penticton Indian Band along with the 19 participating artists and the immigrants who were willing to share their stories. The evening is sponsored by the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services and will feature ethnic food and a public dance featuring the world beats of Vernon’s Barefoot Caravan followed by our headliner the internationally renowned musician Adham Shaikh, a Juno Award-nominated music producer, composer, sound designer, and DJ who brings his uniquely powerful global sounds to the world stage and screen, not to mention a crowded dance floor. This celebration of culture through the magic of food, music and dance is open to all with admission by donation. On March 1st the Downtown Penticton Association Cultural Appreciation Initiative will be holding a cultural celebration featuring a fashion show, workshops, seminars and morehere at the Penticton Art Gallery, culminating with a Bollywood dance at the Yacht Club that evening. The events are intended to bring awareness and appreciation of multiculturalism to the residents and visitors of the City of Penticton and its greater community through multiple events based on education and entertainment. In addition to the events mentioned above, the gallery is planning additional public programming opportunities which are intended to explore and celebrate issues around immigration and we hope that you will engage in this process as its an issue which directly affects us all. If you would like to suggest an idea or want to participate directly, I ask that you please contact the gallery. Thanks to Nora Haft and Rosemarie Cargill of Okanagan Immigrant & Community Services, the En’Owkin Center, Laurel Burnham of the Downtown Penticton Association and all of the participating artists who have backed this project from the outset. Thank you also to all the participating immigrants for taking a chance by sharing an insight into you life, we are a far richer and colourful country for all you have brought to our community and we hope that you will come to find this place as home. I hope in a small way this exhibition’s legacy will be the building of bridges and strengthening of our community.