History of the Movement
The art farm didn’t start out as a movement. It began as a simple dream inspired by a theatre company in France. Theatre Du Soleil puts on remarkable productions out of a renovated ammunitions factory on the outskirts of Paris - but they do more than this. They house artists and workers, they provide meals for audiences, they engineer international collaborations, they break down cultural barriers. Vancouver artists and benefactors, Cecil and Ruth Hershler visited their son Laen, an actor, while he was studying theatre in Paris, and together they saw a production at Theatre Du Soleil. All three were struck by how dynamic and exciting this artistic model was. When Cecil and Ruth Hershler returned home to BC, they were eager to see if this model could be replicated here.
Chad Hershler and Sandy Buck, Cecil and Ruth’s son and daughter-in-law, along with Laen, offered to help see this dream through to realization. After much searching, Cecil and Ruth purchased the land that currently acts as the art farm hub and laboratory - five acres seven kilometers north of Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, BC. Chad and Sandy took on the role of tenants and caretakers, both of the land and the vision.
It didn't take long to realize that for the dream to grow, the vision would have to grow with it. Theatre Du Soleil wasn't the flower – it was the seed. But that begged the question: what was the flower?
This was what the founding team started to ask themselves. This was what they started to ask others. What was it they wanted to grow? At first, the answer seemed obvious: art. But there was more to it than that. In our modern world, five acres seemed like a lot of land to occupy. What was the land for?
Local artist/curator Diego Samper and teacher/writer Marlene Samper joined the team, providing their innovative skills, ideas and passion to the project. Another local artist and entrepreneur Marlene Lowden did the same. She brought local organizational consultant Karin Watson on board. Nadi Fleschutt along side her collective of local natural builders, Good Earth Builders, joined the team to coordinate land stewardship programming. Local businesses showed their support for art farm projects – openings, workshops, installations, residencies – through donations. Volunteers provided their time, energy and passion to these same projects. Audiences showed up in droves. Membership numbers doubled, tripled, quadrupled.
The momentum in the local community picked up and as artists came together, as audiences responded to their work, as others – farmers, builders, entrepreneurs, nature guides, activists, parents, teachers, children – began to show interest, participate in workshops, collaborate on projects, a few shifts in perspective materialized:
• The art farm isn’t about the piece of land it originated on, so much, as land in general.
• The art farm is about land in general, yes, but also about people – and not just about people, that it is people. And not just people, but their ideas, their skills, their techniques, their creativity. In other words, that the art farm isn’t just a farm, it's a movement.
• The work that people are doing in the movement is ultimately change driven; that what attracts people to the movement is a desire to create change in their own lives and the lives of others.
• And these first three shifts in perspective could be distilled into one simple but elegant equation: art + nature = change.
And so deer crossing the art farm – a movement – was born.