It was 1979 and a group of Prince Albert art students were looking to stage their first exhibit.
They didn’t have any money and they didn’t have any fixed location to show their work, but they had drive, determination and a desire to create something friends and family members would enjoy. What followed one year later was something that would become a staple of the Prince Albert arts scene for years to come: the Kyla Arts Show.
“There was no place in town that we could show our work, so we decided we would have our own show,” said Dorie Landwer, one of several artists who were a part of that original show. “We contacted a number of people in the city that we knew were supporters of the arts and we scrounged and begged. We got donations and financial support from a number of businesses and a number of people in town and we put together a show.”
The original Kyla Art Show was much different from today’s version. Tickets were given away for free, as was the wine and cheese, and Lt.-Gov. Irwin McIntosh opened the show to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Prince Albert Inn. However, the biggest change is easy to spot if you look at the name: Kyla Art “Show.”
Landwer said they were surprised when patrons showed up asking to buy pieces on display. The artists were simply looking for an avenue to display their work. Selling pieces to interested patrons never even crossed their mind.
Then, attendees began asking about a second show, and an annual event was born.
“It’s amazing that this has carried on,” Landwer said. “Our society has become such a disposable society that the appreciation of original artwork has diminished somewhat, but yet we get 600 people out to a show like this to admire the work.”
The path forward wasn’t easy, despite that early success. The show moved to the old Marlboro Inn for a number of years, before complaints of overcrowding forced them to a newly built convention centre on South Industrial Drive.
Eventually, they started using sale proceeds to fundraise for a new arts facility in Prince Albert. They were more than happy when their dream came true. They moved to the E.A. Rawlinson Centre the first year it opened.
“We thought we’d died and gone to heaven, to have a show in here,” Landwer remembered. “We could sell 650 tickets to this show, and we sold out. It’s been amazing. It’s a totally amazing ride.”
Landwer has stepped aside from some of her old roles (she was art group’s treasurer for more than 30 years) but she still has some affection for the group that started it all. On Sunday, she was one of several alumni members displaying their work as part of Kyla’s 40th anniversary celebration.
For current Kyla members, like president Cheryl Ring, it’s a wonderful reminder of how important arts are to the community.
“The people of Prince Albert embraced this show, and they have been purchasing art and continuing to come back and come back every year and enjoy that art,” Ring explained after the show’s opening reception. “It connects us as a community. It connects us to this time, this place, but even greater than that, it connects us to our home and where we live.”
For Ring, the Kyla Art Show isn’t just a celebration of artists, it’s a celebration of Saskatchewan. She said it’s tempting for people to become negative about the community, but shows like this help patrons and artists alike develop a bit of pride in where they came from.
In some ways, she said, looking back on 40 years and all the Kyla alumni who have come and gone is a bit overwhelming, but also encouraging.
“It’s affirming that we still have those members close by, and that they feel connected enough that they want to come back and celebrate this 40 years with us,” Ring said. “It is a very, very proud moment.”
A lot of events and shows have started in the past 40 years, and not all are as successful as the Kyla Art Show. Ring attributes it to the important role arts and culture plays in a Prince Albert, which she said helps create a sense of community, and a connection between artists, patrons and the city.
Landwer sees something similar, and she’s hopeful that role continues long into the future.
“Who knows what will be happening in the next few years,” she said. “Perhaps sales may dwindle at sometime, but I think the appreciation of art will remain.”