History of Island Mountain Arts

From Gold to Art

The Wells-Barkerville-Bowron Lakes area on the Traditional Territory of the Lhtako Dené has a long history of artistic excellence. During the first Gold Rush in Canada in the 1860s, Barkerville was the largest settlement west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. Men and women came from all over the world hoping to build a better life in British Columbia’s Cariboo. They brought their music, art and culture: Barkerville’s public library was established as soon as a building was provided to house it; the Cariboo Literary Society met regularly; the Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Society presented their first productions in a saloon until they had raised enough money to build the Theatre Royal.

The town of Wells was born in the 1930s during the second Gold Rush in the area. The Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine in Wells endeavoured to hire miners who were also musicians to help build community spirit with the company’s dance band and orchestra. Continuing in the artistic vein, a community of artists’ studios and galleries has been established over the past thirty-five years.

Writer Robin Skelton (1925 - 1997) at the Jack of Clubs Hotel with IMA students circa late 70s/early 80s

Writer Robin Skelton (1925 - 1997) at the Jack of Clubs Hotel with IMA students circa late 70s/early 80s

Professional quality instruction is the hallmark of Island Mountain Arts. For almost forty years, instructors from around the globe have gathered in this tiny mountain village to mentor students in an intense yet informal setting. Beginning with a one week class in 1977, IMA now boasts a roster of classes which draws 175 students annually. Classes of the Annual School of the Arts are held in the large, airy classrooms of the Wells-Barkerville School. IMA restored the old Hill Meat Market building on historic Pooley Street in 1987. The building now houses the Island Mountain Arts Public Gallery, which features monthly exhibitions, as well as a gift shop and IMA offices. The IMA Gallery is well known for the professional quality of its exhibitions, concerts, artist talks, literary readings and coffeehouses.

In 2004 IMA started the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art, which has become a great signature event for the town of Wells, as well as the Cariboo region. The festival is proud to present a diverse array of performers, musicians and visual artists from across Canada. The International One Minute Play Festival is also part of this exciting event on the August long weekend.

In 2014 IMA launched the successful CAWS for the Nest Campaign, which resulted in the purchase of a large property and building, across from the Community Hall in the heart of historic Wells. With this property IMA has started a new Artist-In-Residence program and has plans for future development of more studio spaces and more opportunities for artists. We are proud to serve students and the public from throughout BC and beyond by employing professional artists as instructors, exhibitors and performers.