What an extraordinary year 2011 has turned out to be for Artists for Conservation.
In this 4th year of AFC's annual juried exhibit, we are taking major steps forward, with a new spectacular venue, a new environmental education program, ourfirst film and a more ambitious event than ever.
In 2011, AFC is proud to welcome visitors to its first annual Artists For Conservation Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since 2007, Vancouver has topped the list of the world's most livable cities, according to an international survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit - a result based on a combination of stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Many will remember that last year, Vancouver was host to the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, and proudly showcased the grand natural playground that envelopes the city. I can't imagine a backdrop more fitting for an inaugural festival focused on reconnecting people to the natural world through nature-inspired art and environmental education!
In previous years, the opening weekend of AFC's live exhibit attracted artist members from around the world - Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South Americas, and the Middle-east. These weekends have been enormously rewarding and rare opportunities for international artists in the genre of nature-inspired art, to share their experiences, techniques and environmental concerns with colleagues. I witnessed life-friendships being born, new ideas germinating, and renewed resolve among artists to do more to save our vanishing biodiversity. It has been wonderful to witness, and we have and continue to be proud to make this possible. However, I believe there is an even greater opportunity and onus on us to build on this and inspire a much broader audience. After all, where in the world can the public meet a group of the world's most talented artists who are all committed to AFC's mission of wildlife and habitat conservation and environmental education?
It will remain an important part of our goal to continue nurturing and strengthening our very special international artist community, but we also need to do much more to connect these inspiring artistic leaders with the broader public. We must use our talents and convictions to inspire the youth of tomorrow to take action to save what remains of this planet's natural wonders.
Gala events and fundraisers are important, but on their own, too often, they serve only to preach to the converted. The Artists for Conservation Festival is the embodiment of applied art - that is, "art to change the world". Each painting or sculpture has an important conservation story and each artist has many stories they would like to tell. At AFC, we are passionate ambassadors for our natural world. We inspire each other with our deep reverence and commitment to our natural history.
For over two years we have searched for an appropriate new venue partner that shares our long-term vision, our core values, and who has the ability to reach thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. The search took us from coast-to-coast across North America. We could have found our new home anywhere. Ironically, we found it in AFC's own back-yard.
Grouse Mountain, located on Vancouver's North Shore, is one of Vancouver's most visible and popular destinations. Perched 4,100 feet above sea-level, draped in temperate rainforest, and overlooking Vancouver and the Pacific coast, Grouse Mountain is known best locally as one of the most popular nearby down-hill skiing resorts, but is truly a year-round and world-class destination. The resort is reached by gondola - an amazing ride in itself - which transports over two million people up and down every year. With professional educators, ecologists and veterinarians on staff, the resort actively participates in conservation research programs, is a leading field trip destination for schools, and includes a wildlife sanctuary with captive timber wolves and grizzly bears.
Grouse Mountain is privately owned by Stuart and Della McLaughlin, two remarkable business and community leaders in Vancouver, who are committed to using the land as a "window into the natural world" for the residents and visitors to Vancouver. The centerpiece of Grouse Mountain is a gorgeous chalet - a facility with multiple restaurants (including one of the top-rated in Vancouver), conference and meeting areas, a theatre, galleries, shops and lounge areas. A five-minute walk from the chalet, nestled in the woods by a mountain lake, is the h'iwus Feast House - a First Nations longhouse with carved cedar totems, where instruction, ceremonies and aboriginal performances take place. The McLaughlins shared our vision of a multi-day world-class event focusing on art and environmental education and have generously opened their doors to us to host the event. In addition, they will be offering free gondola passes to 250 underprivileged youth during the course of the AFC Festival, to ensure as many as possible have the opportunity to participate. We extend our sincere gratitude to Grouse Mountain and the McLaughlins and are confident that as ambitious an event this is, it will only grow into something even greater.
Venue aside, there is much to celebrate this year. Sincere congratulations to AFC Signature Member, Guy Harvey, who is recognized as this year's recipient of AFC's top honor - the Simon Combes Conservation Artist Award - for a lifetime of commitment and impact in conservation and research. Guy is one of the world's best-known marine artists and one of the world's leading advocates for conservation of marine life through his art. He is an artist icon in the fishing industry, a television personality, and a highly successful entrepreneur who uses his many gifts for the welfare of life on this planet. We are proud to have him as a member and even more so to formally recognize his dedication to AFC's conservation mission. Congratulations Guy!
The past year also involved collaboration with some world-class organizations including the American Museum of Natural History, the Houston Zoo, UC California Davis and a small but incredible organization doing heroic work - the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Program. This year, we are featuring Stephen Quinn's Flag Expedition to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, for "How an Artist Saved the Mountain Gorilla: Retracing the Steps of Carl Akeley." At Stephen's request, I accompanied him for what was an adventure of a lifetime. The resulting film was made possible due to the foresight and seed funding from the Houston Zoo and the generosity of Lewis Bernard, Chairman of the American Museum of Natural History. This first film by AFC is a pilot in a series focused on art and conservation and some of the world's leading artists and conservationists in some of the world's most exotic locations.
On the expedition, Stephen sketched Mountain Gorillas from life, only a few feet away, and we learned first-hand about the extraordinary work of the MGVP and its heroic team of veterinarians and field staff, working for the survival of the Mountain Gorilla. Special thanks to Peter Riger of the Houston Zoo, Dr. Mike Cranfield, Executive Director of MGVP and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi of UC California Davis, for making the expedition possible. Among many others, especially big thanks are due to co-explorers and documenters Will Richardson, Molly Feltner and Julie Ghrist. The expedition was historically successful, achieving all of its primary goals including sketching gorillas in the wild, locating Carl Akeley's grave and pinpointing the location of the AMNH Mountain Gorilla diorama - not visited since Akeley's fateful expedition 86 years ago. Our hope is that the legacy of the expedition will strengthen support for MGVP and their successful work in protecting Mountain Gorillas from extinction.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you to our steadfast full-time volunteer, Managing Director, Bill Whiting. For 8 years, Bill has dedicated most of his free time as a retiree, to supporting and nurturing the organization. Most importantly, thanks to the artists, patrons, sponsors, jurors, our large and dedicated team of volunteers, as well as the viewing public, without whom, AFC and the 2011 Artists for Conservation Festival would not exist.
I look forward to meeting you at the festival.
Jeff Whiting, H.B.Sc., SAA, AFC
President & Founder
Artists for Conservation
"The Art of Conservation 2011" book, scheduled for release during the AFC Festival on Nov 5 and available for pre-order now.