Behind the Scenes at Bill Reid Gallery


Mike Robinson (CEO of the Bill Reid Trust and Executive Director of the Bill Reid Gallery) and Beth Walters (Board of Directors)

By Dave Wheaton

Photos by Noriko Nasu-Tidball

From Left: Gabriel Pliska (Playbook web editor), Dave Wheaton (Playbook staff writer), Keiko Honda (Editor-in-Chief),

From Left: Gabriel Pliska (Playbook web editor), Dave Wheaton (Playbook staff writer), Keiko Honda (Editor-in-Chief), Kwiaahwah Jones (Bill Reid Gallery)


It’s sexy, fun, intelligent, and provocative. The RezErect exhibition at Bill Reid Gallery of North-West Coast Art is an exploration into erotica, something we tend to forget when thinking about Indigenous culture. But what does it take to make an exhibit like this possible? Beth Walters has been on the Board of the Bill Reid Gallery of North-West Coast Art since its beginning. She suggested we meet at the gallery on Hornby Street to experience it firsthand. We’re thrilled that we did.

“This is an unusual gallery”

– Beth


We start with a tour of the gallery, led by the co-curator of the current show, Kwiaahwah Jones.  RezErect is an amazing exhibit with a variety of pieces across a variety of mediums. The provocative theme of the exhibit is realized in so many ways; some artwork is funny, some is scandalous, some is empowering, and some rebellious.  Bill Reid Gallery is the first to host an exhibit of aboriginal erotica, earning the greatest response the gallery has seen. But most of the gallery’s shows are original concepts so Bill Reid Gallery is no stranger to this sort of venture. In the past, the gallery has hosted a show on Aboriginal humor and a show on textiles. Original ideas like these help Bill Reid Gallery stand out and appeal to all audiences. Emphasizing these unexplored aspects of coastal First Nations’ culture has defined Bill Reid Gallery as a cultural authority here in Vancouver. “Exhibitions such as this are like stories”, says Beth, “They open your mind and your heart to new ideas”.


603A2010While discussing Vancouver’s Bill Reid Gallery with Beth we also met the Executive Director of the gallery, Mike Robinson, who explained a little bit about the gallery’s history.  “RezErect has the highest attendance of any exhibit that we’ve programmed” says Mike as he shows us the records of the gallery’s attendance. Every year, Bill Reid Gallery gains more and more visitors, but the gallery is still young and turn-out is expected to increase.

Born 1920 in Victoria, Bill Reid was an influential Canadian figure credited with “rediscovering great artistic traditions and infusing tradition with modern ideas and forms of expression”. Bill created “over 1,500 works, from the ‘monumentally small’ to the ‘exquisitely huge’.” Most of us recognize Bill’s “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” that is pictured on all but the newest 20 dollar bills in our wallets. He was a writer, poet, sculptor, and storyteller. But before all that, Bill was a broadcaster for CBC.  The variety of his work is evident at the Bill Reid Gallery. You can look up to see the enormous bronze-cast “Mythic Messengers”, which floats high up on the wall, you can see both the small gold-cast and the larger onyx version of “Raven and the First Men”, and you can see the amazing Milky Way necklace, cast in gold with diamonds as the stars. Amongst the variety of Bill Reid’s artwork, you can contrast his later success with his budding skill at age of 12, when he carved a tiny tea cup out of chalk for his sister.

603A2027Besides being an instrumental figure in coastal art, Bill Reid played a major role in the community until his death in 1988. His life work helped build bridges between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. A teach and mentor to many individuals, Bill Reid inspired younger generations to explore coastal traditional art. True to Bill’s legacy, one of the gallery’s main focuses is to encourage coastal artists. RezErect and other original exhibits are possible thanks to the numerous Cascadian artists who share Bill Reid’s profound interest in coastal tradition.


Before her involvement at Bill Reid Gallery, Beth owned and directed a consulting firm where she prepared financial projects and provided advice for hospitality businesses. Now, Beth is one of few people who can say they’ve been involved in over a thousand financial projects! An expert in the hotel and resort industry, Beth has projected the performance of convention centers, restaurants, pubs, arenas, museums, casinos, and any other hospitality business you can name.

Beth Walters

Beth Walters (Board of Directors), Kerrisdale Resident


It was for her business expertise that Herb Auerbach, Bill Reid’s friend and artwork advocate, sought out Beth to join a group of professionals looking to create Bill Reid Gallery. This dedicated group worked together to create a gallery that would house Bill Reid’s and other coastal aboriginal art. Without government help, they raised funds, found a location, and created a foundation for the gallery we see today. This difficult project was possible through the skills each individual brought with them. Together, they had expertise in marketing, finance, negotiation, real estate, law, art, and construction. The gallery was purely theoretical to begin with, and then a new reality hit the group. “Suddenly, it was an operating business!” says Beth. Amazingly, a decade later, most of these same people are still involved in the gallery.


Today, Bill Reid Gallery is made possible by a small group of dedicated staff and volunteers who work hard to make the gallery what it is. This is a very entrepreneurial place, and the small team is involved in all facets of operation. They coordinate shows, volunteers, and outreach, and host educational events, and workshops. They also make the gallery accessible to visitors, operate the gallery gift shop and manage space rentals for special events. In testament to the gallery’s entrepreneurial spirit, the staff involve themselves in everything necessary to operate the gallery. “Kwi and I transported 58 pieces of art in my pickup truck over 2 days” says executive director Mike Robinson.


Last year, the Bill Reid Foundation gifted the Bill Reid Gallery collection to Simon Fraser University. In exchange, the Bill Reid Foundation manages the collection, raises funds, creates shows, and operates the Gallery so that everybody can enjoy Bill Reid’s artwork.


Besides her long involvement at the Bill Reid Gallery, Beth has a unique set of hobbies. In her spare time she loves to dance, kayak and scuba-dive. “It’s the joy of movement”, Beth says.



Dave interviewing Beth

As an active member of Vancouver’s vibrant dance community, Beth enjoys Contra Dance, English Country dance, Argentinian Tango, International Folk Dance, and more recently discovered Cuban Salsa Rueda.  “I’ve been in Israeli, Scandinavian and Balkan performing groups.  I mean we really do it all”, she says. Countless parts of the world are represented here in Vancouver through different types of dance.  “We’re a country with all of these cultures that come together, so it’s natural” Beth says. Just like the Bill Reid Gallery is way for us today to connect with different cultures and different times, dance brings history and cultural flavor to Vancouver.


For Beth, all facets of dance are spectacular, but you can tell that Contra dance excites her personally.  Fast paced and full of energy, Contra dance is set to Irish and French-Canadian music, although it claims American origins. Contra is continually growing in popularity among younger audiences, which you can come see for yourself at St. James community center in Vancouver, where dances are held on alternating weekends.  Beth also loves English Country Dance, an English-traditional style of dance held Sundays, above the Billy Bishop pub. The live pieces played at these events could be from any time between the 1500s and modern day.  But don’t confuse English-Traditional dance with strict formality, “People think of English dance as being staid, but really they were very flirtatious”, Beth jokes.  The best part is that these dance communities are open to all, young and old, and you don’t need a partner to join in!



Vancouver’s lively dance communities have a tremendous impact on the cultural fabric.  Beth meets dancers from all over when traveling to Contra, English, Tango and International Folk N. American and international weekend and full week events.  She recently danced in Massachusetts, Oregon, and she is regularly in Seattle, which she indicates is a major US center of music and dance.  The dance events held here also attract dancers from around North America as well as locals.  She highlighted the annual Fall Chehalis Contra Dance weekend. Her Vancouver English Country dance group hosts a bi-annual English Country Ball in April, featuring the Seattle band “MI5” this year.  The first annual Burnaby Lyrids International Folk Dance Festival, led by internationally known Serbian and Turkish dance leaders this year, received registrants from Quebec and California immediately upon its posting on line.


Beth continues to keep history and culture alive here in Vancouver. Whether through her contribution to Bill Reid Gallery or through her role in the local dance community, Beth succeeds in carrying on the spirit of Bill Reid by immersing herself in history and culture. 603A2032