Job title: Head of Public Engagement, Esker Foundation
Why she's a 2016 Top 40:
Her work creating the Esker Foundation’s public program series has helped strengthen local communities, bringing together people from all walks of life while promoting visual arts and accessible arts education.
Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.
When Megan Kerluke was studying art at the University of Calgary, one of her printmaking professors snuck into the studio after hours and scribbled a note on one of her prints.
“He wrote, ‘Keep up the good work. You need to work harder to benefit from your talents.’ I still have that print somewhere,” says Kerluke.
This piece of advice is one Kerluke has taken to heart, considering how much the Esker Foundation’s head of public engagement has done to help her community and the art scene in Calgary. Through both exhibit-based and recurring public programs at Esker, a privately funded, non-commercial contemporary art gallery, Kerluke gets gallery-goers engaged and excited about the gallery and the arts community in Calgary. Last year, she put together 98 free public programs, and, since 2012, more than 6,400 people have attended Kerluke’s programs.
Though she’s happy with those numbers, Kerluke says it took years to get to this point. “In the beginning, we were so new that people didn’t know we had free programs, so the attendance wasn’t good, initially,” she says. “Now we’re at a point that we’re so successful that we’re having to run programs twice.”
An example of this surge is the Mini-Masters program, in which young children make their own art. The program attendance went from 18 participants in October 2015 to 79 three months later. It has been at capacity ever since.
The popularity of these events isn’t hard to comprehend. Free, ongoing programs such as Mini-Masters or the Bring the Baby art tour, where parents can tour the gallery with their infants, have helped fill a community need for affordable, quality, family-friendly outings. Non-recurring programs tied to exhibits also offer a chance for people to meet the exhibiting artists, get educated on the arts and connect with other people in an intimate, friendly group.
“It’s a small number of people we’re reaching, but I think they have such a meaningful experience. I get all these calls asking if they can do it again,” says Kerluke. “It’s about creating community and a conversation and learning together.” — Andrew Guilbert