This week the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL) commemorated its 50th year since its founding.
A venerable organization in the lakecity community, the CACWL has been promoting and supporting local arts and culture since the 60s. Now 50 years later current members like Venta Rutkauskas, the council’s program manager and coordinator, are looking back on its legacy and forward to its future.
Rutkauskas has held her position for the last five years and said she was offered the position due to her background in arts and theatre. She describes herself as a lifelong advocate for the arts and is deeply invested in seeing the growth of local arts and culture in Williams Lake.
While Feb. 24, 1969, is the official incorporation date for the CACWL, Rutkauskas said the members who would found the organization were actually active for close to a decade before this under the name the Allied Arts Council, working together to leverage funds and promote the arts within the community. This included many notable artists and community members of the day including Gwen Pharis Ringwood and Sonia Cornwall.
“Those founders really had a vision so it’s nice to go through those archives, see what they had in mind and then see where we’re at today, what’s accomplished and still needs to be accomplished,” Rutkauskas mused. “At the heart of it, I think they wanted an arts centre, a place to be able to work at. You think of the artists and potters specifically who need that space to come together and do there work, not everybody has the home studio.”
An arts centre was pushed heavily by Ringwood at the time, who helped shape the Players Club of the day into the Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society, who used a mobile venue for many coffee house performances at the time. The CACWL offices themselves did and have done a lot of moving around town with little stability until around 2010 when the old fire hall beside city hall was officially made into the Central Cariboo Arts Centre under manangement of the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society (CCACS), with the CACWL establishing their offices permanently there in 2016.
Originally, there were four founding organizations back in 1969 including the Players Club (Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society), the Glee Club, the Creative Potters (the Cariboo Potters Guild) and the Cariboo Arts Society. Today, Rutkauskas said there are 14 organizations that make up the council including the Cariboo Arts Society, Cariboo Conservation Society, Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddle Society, the Cariboo Potters Guild, Cariboo Gold Dance Band (their newest member), the Williams Lake Community Band, the Cariboo Festival Society, Quintet Plus, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, the Potato House Sustainability Project, the Station House Gallery, Williams Lake Spinners and Weavers and Fiber Artists, Williams Lake Studio Theatre and the small, but feisty, Williams Lake Writers Group.
“That was part of the vision back then, to have a centralized organization that represented the arts to the community,” Rutkauskas said. “Crucially these were all artists who were benefiting personally from art but they saw that art could be delivered outwards to the community for the benefit of health and wellness.”
“I think creative communities are healthy communities,” Rutkauskas declared.
Today Rutkauskas said they consider a broad scope of arts and culture when considering who to give their annual grants to. This includes a focus on youth arts, supporting their membership and producing art themselves. Based on the records, she believes this is well in line with the founders’ vision to push and promote the arts and culture scene any way they can in Williams Lake.
This, along with securing a proper arts facility, one designed and built for the purpose, is something she feels the society still needs to push and advocate for, to the wider community. While the space they currently have is a nice one, it’s not suitable for all artists, especially those of the live performance variety, and doesn’t quite follow the open studio concept they’re hoping to achieve one day.
“This is a resourceful community, they make a lot of effort to make what’s usable a good space,” Rutkauskas said.
A proper central arts centre built for the purpose is, while not outside the realm of possibility, a ways away Rutkauskas explained, as it would take tremendous advocacy on behalf of the community and a considerable expense by the city council to make happen. While it’s something they and other partners in the community continue to strive for, at the moment it’s not on the horizon.
Rutkauskas also finds inspiration in the archive for the revival of projects for the future, such as hosting and sponsoring more workshops for the community. In past years more professional artists and master of specific crafts were brought to the lakecity to share their talents, something she would like to return to doing.
In the past, in partnership with the Performing Arts Council, the CACWL also used to bring in musical acts on a more regular basis, creating for a time a fairly robust classical and jazz music scene. Rutkauskas and others, however, have stepped back into this role in recent years and are either hosting or organizing many of Williams Lake’s upcoming concert series.
“I’m not a stranger for fighting for the rights of arts in the classroom, for instance. It’s being taken away constantly, music education, the fine arts, drama, speech arts. All of these things are being pulled out of schools’ curriculum despite the fact we know art is good for us, it helps our brains, it can assist us in coping with stressful times and it gives us the ability to create meaning out of life’s situations,” Rutkauskas declared, saying the work they do bringing art to schools is particularly important to her.
All of this is made possible by the funds and grants the CACWL receives from their partnership with the CCACS and other sources. This allows them to pay artists for their work, implement programs and bring in outside expertise. This year they will be giving away tickets for a variety of upcoming events including the Studio Theatre’s upcoming shows, some of their own musical acts they’re bringing to town and various other performance arts.
Her records are not complete, however, and Rutkauskas would love if people could come and tell her more about the founding president of the CACWL Martha ‘Marty’ Simon who was a real “go-getter” in the community for many years.
Today, however, Rutkauskas said she is privileged to have worked with and to continue to work with the likes of Harry Jennings and Christine Constable.
“Volunteers are crucial and (going forward) we need to keep encouraging volunteerism, especially in young people,” Rutkauskas said.
“That’d be really helpful so they can carry on the vision that’s needed now.”