Joy Davis still finds herself surprised when she steps out her office door and into the heart of downtown Victoria.
She used to run the University of Victoria Art Collections from an office on campus, but that changed when the department took over operation of Legacy Gallery this summer.
It’s been a month since the Yates Street facility re-opened from renovations that changed it from a café and gift shop to what is now UVic’s primary gallery venue. It now hosts curated shows and includes offices for collections staff, as well as teaching and research space for art students.
“We’re bringing art closer to the community,” Davis said. “People wander through here on their lunch break. It’s a lot more convenient than a trip to the university.”
Legacy first opened in 2007 as an arm of the UVic Bookstore. But it was always meant to be a gallery first, as a way to honour the late Michael Williams, the Victoria philanthropist and art lover who left virtually his entire estate to the university.
“We have a lot more wall space to hang exhibits,” Davis said of the new layout. “There’s a climate-controlled room where we can show some of the more sensitive pieces.”
Williams’ collections of contemporary and First Nations art, along with works bequeathed by John and Katharine Maltwood, make up the bulk of the 27,000 pieces UVic Art Collections draws on for exhibits.
The first show in the reopened gallery is Convergence/Divergence: Landscape and Identity of the West Coast. Continuing until Oct. 1, the exhibit features the works of some of the area’s best-known artists, including Emily Carr, E. J. Hughes and Norman Yates.
Students gaining work experience at the gallery researched each piece to create the catalogue that goes along with the exhibit. They also worked with faculty from UVic’s anthropology department to produce a film of interviews with the artists.
Giant maps of B.C., created by a UVic cartographer, are the basis for a community mapping exercise on one gallery wall. Visitors tag locations with yellow sticky notes, noting memories they have of that place.
“We want to continue to build connections with other departments (at UVic),” Davis said. “When we get an idea, we have a wealth of experts on campus to draw on.”
The next exhibit, opening Oct. 5, is In Her Own Words: Works and Writings by Emily Carr, Katharine Maltwood and Myfanwy Pavelic. The staff will put the show together with help from the women’s studies department. “This is a place to learn, as much as a place to look at art,” Davis said.
Upstairs, in rooms closed to the public, art students meet a couple times per week for classes based around the Williams collection. It’s a rare opportunity for them to have original works they can look at in the classroom, rather than just slides.
The gallery is also home to the City Talks lecture series. It kick-starts its second season tomorrow (Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m.) with a talk by Columbia University’s Jean Howard called Theatre and the City: Early Modern London in Reality and on the Stage.
Legacy Art Gallery is located at 630 Yates St., open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with no admission charge. For details see www.legacygallery.ca.