If the opening reception for Kaxlaya Gvilas is any indication of its popularity, the exhibition running at the Museum of Anthropology through September 2 promises to be extremely well attended.
Jennifer Webb, communications manager for the museum, said the reception held on April 23 was a great success.
"Seven hundred people were there, including 16 chiefs and a few hundred community members from Bella Bella. There was a welcome to Musqueam territory by Chief Ernie Campbell and an address by Chief Edwin Newman of the Heiltsuk Nation," said Webb. "It started at seven o'clock and the last person left around midnight."
Webb described the event as "a really powerful demonstration of the pride of young artists of their heritage, standing alongside the older ones."
The Kaxlaya Gvilas ("the ones who uphold the laws of our ancestors") exhibit is a combination of historical pieces from the Royal Ontario Museum's R.W. Large Collection and contemporary artwork from the Heiltsuk village of Waglisla (Bella Bella).
Pam Brown, curator of ethnology and media at the museum, was asked by the Heiltsuk Tribal Council to curate the exhibit. The associate curator is Martha Black of the Royal British Columbia Museum.
Brown was very pleased with the turnout at the opening ceremony and pointed to the many efforts that made it such a success. She said people of the Heiltsuk community in Bella Bella were a strong presence at the opening and had worked extremely hard to make it there.
"They had fundraised to come down and had a lot of sponsors working with their community that gave at least $4,000 in corporate sponsorship," said Brown. "B.C. Ferries donated 25 walk-ons and five vehicle spaces, while Western Forest took some of the chiefs down in their seven-seater plane."
Brown said that students from the Heiltsuk Bella Bella Community School were on hand to sing and dance, as well as 15 students from Heiltsuk College.
She explained that the Kaxlaya Gvilas is produced in collaboration with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, the Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre, the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum.
The Heiltsuk Urban Dance group organized appetizers and food for the opening and the Heiltsuk community members in the Lower Mainland prepared it. Cyril Carpenter of the Heiltsuk Nations donated deer and herring roe, while the Heiltsuk Tribal Council donated salmon for the event.
Although the collaboration of historical and contemporary art is not a new concept, the documentation of the collection was incredible, said Brown. "Very few historical artists are known and documented in the records. In this case, five of the historical pieces were documented very well."
The historical collection contains a variety of rarely seen objects including carved figures, walking sticks, musical instrument, jewelry, tools, fishing gear and brightly painted masks.
As for the contemporary pieces in the exhibit, Brown said, "For the 15 available spots, over 60 artists applied." She explained that an advisory committee in Bella Bella was responsible for selecting the artists for the contemporary display.
Said Webb, "I think it's significant that the Heiltsuk is relatively close and the artists are able to be there with their works." Some of the artists will participate in a summer series presented by the Museum of Anthropology, including Kendra Newman, Bradley Hunt, Mia Hunt and Ian Reid.
The exhibit was made possible through a grant from the Museums Assistance Program at Canadian Heritage and is presented through the support of the Audain Foundation.