11/22/2012 04:43 EST | Updated 01/22/2013 05:12 EST

B.C.'s Top Artists Gather To Protect Great Bear Rainforest

Dean Azim

Only weeks after hosting the world's top conservation art exhibit featuring artists from around the world at the Artists for Conservation Festival, Vancouver is about to host another remarkable conservation-themed art exhibit.

On Nov. 27, the exhibit "Art for an Oil Free Coast" will open for just a few days at Performance Works on Granville Island featuring a film, book and art exhibit featuring dozens of British Columbia's most talented and acclaimed visual artists. The exhibit will then travel to Victoria, Saltspring Island and beyond. The goal of the exhibit is to stimulate discussion about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Kitimat, B.C.

The proposed oil pipeline threatens the ecology of thousands of miles of B.C.'s coastline in what is known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The area is extremely rugged, is characterized by narrow and rocky channels, inlets, islands and fjords and represents the world's largest intact tract of temperate rainforest.

The zone is home to stunning, primordial landscapes with an abundance of life, from 1,000-year old cedar and 300-foot Sitka spruce to whales and dolphins to cougars, wolves and grizzly bears, including the Kermode "Spirit" bear -- a subspecies of grizzly with a white coat of fur in some individuals.

In June, as an artist, I joined an expedition of 50 artists from across B.C. We flew from Vancouver to the town of Bella Bella, followed by a five-hour boat-ride to the smaller, isolated town of Klemtu, mid-way up the coastline of the Great Bear Rainforest. The next four days would be among the most memorable in my life, as would it for many fellow artists on the expedition.

2012-11-22-optimized_dsc1311.jpg(Courtesy Dean Azim)

One year ago, while volunteering his time our first annual Artists for Conservation (AFC) Festival at Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, Artists for Conservation member and biologist Mark Hobson pulled me aside to describe his commitment to an idea he had been considering for some time -- to lead a group of B.C.'s leading artists to the Great Bear Rainforest in the interests of conservation. It was ambitious and would require a heroic effort to pull off in a very short period. Six months later, the concept was being realized.

Heading the pack was Mark, artist and visionary behind the expedition. The project was made possible through a few generous donors and supporters, and a key partnership with the Raincoast Conservation Society and the field leadership of Brian Falconer - captain of Raincoast's "Achiever."

In 1989 Hobson led a similar project to the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island with 100 B-.C. artists for a "paint-in" and exhibit that played a pivotal role in galvanizing public support for protecting the land. Among the participants were several members of AFC.

REFLECTIONS: Art for an Oil-Free Coast - Film Trailer from StrongHeart Productions on Vimeo.

The beautiful, moving and informative film "Reflections: Art for an Oil Free Coast" that documents the expedition, premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival and only days later at the AFC Festival. The art exhibit will take this message another step further.

So, while Nov.27 promises to kick off an artistic movement to conserve the Great Bear Rainforest, the public will have the rare opportunity to admire first-hand, an extraordinary and diverse exhibit borne out of a collective passion for one of the most dramatic, beautiful and fragile places on the planet. Do not miss "Art for an Oil Free Coast."

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