As the darkest days of the year approach, Eternal Summer has come to the Multicultural Heritage Centre Public Art Gallery in Stony Plain, thanks to the imagination of curator Alexis Marie Chute.
"The whole idea is during the coldest month of the year, you can come and get some creative vitamin D from the gallery," Chute told Taproot. "It's going to be like a Midsummer Night's Dream feeling. We've got a little fountain with floating lily pads and little nests with birds and things."
The show, which opened on Dec. 12, features the work of 17 artists alongside herbarium specimens from a group of organic master gardener students. An opening reception is set for Dec. 20.
"For me as a curator, I feel like I'm transitioning into this beautiful new experimental stage where I'm really trying to create an immersive environment for people," Chute said. "So they come in, and it's not just the art, but it's the whole atmosphere that they can soak in and feel like every little detail was thought through and brings the art to life. It's all about the art at the end of the day, but creating an environment for the artwork so that (they're) more than just paintings on a wall."
Eternal Summer is the latest in a long line of immersive and unique exhibits the Edmonton-based writer, photographer, filmmaker, and artist has brought to the rural gallery since she became curator in January 2020.
"It was just a natural fit from the beginning and I felt at home and I feel like the mandate of the gallery here is something that inspires me," she said. "We have a huge passion here for showing local artists, but also to show that Stony Plain is such an interesting place."
Chute's vision helped her keep art happening at the gallery in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began shortly after she took the job. By hanging art in the gallery and taking photos and video, she created virtual exhibitions such as Powerful Profiles: Black Women Painters, co-curated with Serena Saunders; Nitssaakita'paispinnaan: We Are Still In Control, featuring three contemporary Blackfoot artists; and Body Beautiful, which celebrated "wrinkles and hair loss, and the roly-poly beautiful folds of real skin — not the sort of thing we see in typical media."
Some of Chute's videos for the Multicultural Heritage Centre have amassed thousands of views and put Stony Plain on the international stage. "So many of the initiatives that I tried during the pandemic were wonderfully inspiring and brought people together, and it helped keep the arts alive, not only just in Stony Plain," Chute said.
For Chute, exhibiting art means more than simply hanging pictures on walls. It means creating an experience for visitors, especially now that in-person exhibits have returned. A recent show featured painted portraits with a party theme by Edmonton artist Campbell Wallace. "I staged the whole gallery as if people are walking into a house party in action," Chute said. "And so I had a recliner with a pink bra thrown over it, and the remnants of party debris scattered around."
She organized a fundraiser for the gallery on Nov. 19, featuring live painting, video art, drag artist Artaisa, and a fashion show showing the designs of Derek Jagodzinsky of LUXX Ready to Wear.
"We had town councillors come out, and they definitely expressed to me that this is one of the more unique events that they've ever seen in Stony Plain, with a drag queen and fashion shows and just the live artists and the whole vibe," Chute said.
In a multi-use building that also houses a museum featuring pioneer farm equipment, an art gallery presenting cutting-edge exhibits has faced mixed reactions from visitors. That doesn't deter Chute, however.
"I think the best that a curator and artists can hope for is any reaction. I've had both love and hate. I think that's the beauty of art. It exposes people to different ways of life, different perspectives. I want to create something that lingers, that has resonance for people," she said.
"I'm always thinking of different ways to bring people into creative spaces and to create community and to create engagement."
Eternal Summer runs until Feb. 23 at 5411 51 St. in Stony Plain. A show featuring sculpture is up next; the deadline for submissions is Jan. 15.