Meet among the masters

From Prince George to Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler, art galleries serve as an inspired canvas for corporate events

Rendering shows the new Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, which began taking bookings in December 2017. The aspiring gallery has space for up to 400 guests, and includes a theatre space with water views to the Vancouver skyline | Polygon Gallery

The modernist Russian-French artist Marc Chagall once stated that great art picks up where nature ends. It’s a sentiment that well describes the nearly two-year-old Audain Art Museum in Whistler. Nestled amid some of the best beauty British Columbia has to offer, the impressive 56,000-square-foot building was itself designed to be an “architectural destination” by Vancouver-based Patkau Architects; a shadow within the forested Whistler landscape.

“Their goal was to really not take away from that but to be a part of it,” explains Justine Nichol, the museum’s marketing and communications manager. “The architectural experience of the building as well, it’s almost as if you’re inside of a piece of art.”

The Audain Art Museum is a unique addition to the Sea-to-Sky corridor’s roster of event venues. Boasting floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden hemlock lines and spacious modern rooms, the $43.5 million endeavour has already hosted more than 75 events in its indoor and outdoor spaces.

Nichol describes it as “breathtaking,” and we haven’t even got to the art.

“It’s the only museum [in Canada] that’s dedicated to the art of one province,” she says. The building permanently houses the personal art collection of homebuilder and philanthropist Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, and it captures British Columbia’s history through the lens of art: from a historical collection of 18th- and 19th-century First Nations masks to contemporary work by B.C. artists. The venue also plays host to three international exhibitions that vary year to year.

“There’s nothing like being in the presence of original artwork,” says Leanne Cadden, sales and marketing manager at the Robert Bateman Centre, which overlooks Victoria’s inner harbour.

Anchored just a short walk from the capital’s legislative buildings and the historic Empress Hotel, the centre offers an intimate art-based setting within the historic 1924 Steamship Terminal. While the Audain Art Museum can entertain banquets of up to 120 guests and more for stand-up functions, Cadden says her centre can accommodate anything from private meetings for 10, up to 100-person stand-up receptions.

Whatever the size, the venue provides an immersive artistic and nature-focused experience that brings the outdoors – the site sits on a migratory bird sanctuary – indoors, where Robert Bateman’s nature paintings are featured at every turn.

“I find it very powerful and emotional, and I think it adds an elevated energy to the event,” says Cadden, adding that the centre offers hands-on painting workshops that can be worked into any event schedule.

Even without a planned activity, choosing an art gallery for an event venue is a selection that comes with built-in entertainment. It can also serve as inspiration for event themes, from the decor to the dishes.

“Cocktails can be themed over exhibitions; it’s kind of a fun way to introduce art into your event,” says Faye Bednarczyk, venue rentals manager at the brand-new Polygon Gallery located on the city of North Vancouver’s waterfront.

“We’re sort of an empty canvas,” says Bednarczyk. “We’re clean and modern and fresh and contemporary, but the sky’s the limit with what you can do with the space.”

With bookings starting in December 2017 and corporate functions already slated for 2018, the facility repositions the internationally recognized and nearly 40-year-old Presentation House Gallery in a modern setting. Throughout the year, it will host rotating photography and mixed media exhibitions adjacent to its rentable spaces.

When not gazing at the art, guests can view the downtown Vancouver skyline from a private, covered balcony that blends into the venue’s interior thanks to a retractable glass wall. It’s minutes from downtown, large enough for receptions of up to 400 and “really conducive to Vancouver weather,” quips Bednarczyk.

For businesses in B.C.’s north, the contemporary Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George is the only art-based event venue in the area. Built in 2000, the contemporary building features local artists in its Rustad Galleria and contemporary Canadian artists in its two main galleries. When coupled with its skylit atrium, the facility can host 200 guests in a stand-up event, or half that number for a sit-down affair.

The space has catered to major fundraising functions and many corporate events. Entertainment-wise, Two Rivers’ menu features mixed media installation and workshop opportunities for guests.

While its said art is in the eye of the beholder, when it comes to truly meeting – and dining – among the masters, it is tough to top the opportunities provided by the Vancouver Art Gallery and its blockbuster exhibitions. In 2017, guests could mingle with Monet. The year before, they had the chance to party with Picasso.

“After hours is exclusive access to the exhibitions,” explains Veronica Trebesh, event assistant at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “It’s really just them and their guests in the space and that’s the experience.”

The gallery also caters in exclusive spaces. Its rooftop pavilion, which boasts the cachet of having served as B.C.’s pavilion during the 2010 Winter Olympics, offers a unique vantage point from which to view the city. It’s reserved for special events, and set up to accommodate functions in any season.

“It’s just a really unique space and it’s a sense of community and art in the heart of downtown.”