Putting On a Show
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Paula Kenny, the director of the Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside, studied fine arts at university, but it was summer work at the airport that led to her first career, in the commercial airline industry. History and art remained her passion, and now in her second career, she says, “I’m getting to do what was my hobby.”
Working at the airport and working at a PEI Museum and Heritage site share in common “a lot of public contact”—but Paula notes with relief that “people are not quite as stressed out when they come to a museum.”
Creating a welcoming space for arts, crafts, and history is what Paula works to do at Eptek. “We’re in a community of 15 to 16,000 people,” Paula says, “It’s important to give people different types of exhibits, to keep them coming back.”
Paula says, “We have temporary exhibit space…and we’re prime real estate there for fine craft and visual art. But we are the only PEI Museum site with no permanent exhibit. That means we are forced to bring in something new all the time, which is kind of a challenge, and kind of a gift,” Paula says.
A March visit to Eptek Centre will give people a look at Women’s Work, an expanded “reprise of an exhibit from Fanningbank,” the Lieutenant Governor’s residence. “It is a really fine little exhibit,” Paula says. “It was only there a few months in the summer, in a small room where it was very compressed. We will include an exhibit of artifacts from the PEI Museum and Heritage collection—handcrafted items by women, mostly from the 19th century.”
Behind the scenes in March, Eptek staff will be preparing for this summer’s Celebration of Craft, a major exhibition that will include invited and juried visual art and fine craft inspired by photos of pieces in the PEI Museum’s collection, “all handcrafted items—wood, leather, ceramics, textiles, and all kinds of things,” Paula says. “Some beautiful, some colourful, some odd, some really historically important. Others,” she laughs, “were conveniently located.”
Contemporary pieces will be displayed alongside their sources of historical inspiration. Already, artists are making exciting connections. Paula has talked to artists inspired by pieces in contrasting media, such as a textile artist inspired by a ship’s hull. She knows many surprises will be in store. “I think that variety is what really floats my boat,” Paula says. “To be involved with Island history and today’s culture as well, I know I’m really lucky.”
“It’s fun when we change an exhibit,” Paula says. “We get to put on our jeans and t-shirts and roll up our sleeves and go to work. But there’s a lot of organizing, organizing, organizing—and planning. By the time a new exhibit is up, we’re already way, way down the road. We generally plan two years ahead.”
Still, Paula says, “it is hard to establish an image for the public. “Eptek was originally established as a Centennial project that brought national-standard exhibition spaces to small communities, but despite the centre’s longevity, Paula says, “I still have to tell people that Eptek is next to Harbourfront Theatre, which went up about 12 years ago. We still get people in from Summerside who’ve never been here [at Eptek] before.”
In the summer, especially, “visitors want a look through the window into Island culture, including craft and history,” Paula says. “It doesn’t matter what our exhibit is, visitors just want to see something that is genuinely PEI.”
“Personally,” Paula says, “I want as many contacts as possible in the community, to give people in the community what they want to see.” She names Summerside’s local history groups, Eptek’s active auxiliary of friends, local amateur art groups, and others as special resources. “I want people to come to us, share their ideas, share their collections, and I want to bring out things from our [PEI Museum] collection so everyone gets a chance to see PEI’s treasures.” As Paula knows first hand, you don’t have to travel by air—or face the stress of an airport—to take a trip of discovery.