Rezansoff moving but leaving behind an amazing arts legacy

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Melanie Friesen from the Swift Current Allied Arts Council was assisted by Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling in presenting Paul Rezansoff with an Eric Uglem painting during a farewell reception to the Rezansoff family on March 21.

Paul Rezansoff is bidding farewell to Swift Current later this year, but not before investing 45 years of volunteer service and leaving a lasting artistic legacy in the community.

A farewell reception was held for the Rezansoff family on Friday, fittingly hosted at the Swift Current Art Gallery, a facility he was a driving force in establishing in the 1970s. A capacity audience turned out for a presentation in recognition of Rezanoff's cultural contribution to the community.

Rezansoff, who turned 72 back on March 16, was a driving force in Swift Current's arts community and a leader of the Swift Current Allied Arts Council, but he was also influential on the provincial scene and at the national level. He boasts an equally impressive list of awards in recognition of his tireless efforts, including receiving the Order of Canada in 2001, earning the the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal in 1996, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, plus he was named Swift Current Citizen of the Year in 2008.

"I've enjoyed it. Certainly it's been hard work, but its also given me the satisfaction of being able to do it. And the biggest thing that happened in Swift Current is that the community responded to it. All the dreams that anybody has will not materialize if somebody doesn't buy into it. A sold out ticket series is a pretty good incentive to keep it going."

While currently packing for a move to Ottawa, he admits there are a lot of returning memories as he reflects back on his over four decades of volunteering to improve Swift Current's arts scene.

"I've tried to be the optimist in the process. We've been very fortunate over the years with what we've been able to achieve with the Arts Council and all the various things like the Sky Centre and the National Exhibition Centre which is now the Gallery."

"I think it's probably the situation of not giving up on the community," he reflected. "When I first came to Swift Current, I was on some provincial boards and I was always told 'well, Swift Current is too small to be able to do all this that you're trying to do.' I say it's been an interesting experiment, and 45 years later we have a growing arts series, we have an art gallery, we have a theatre. All of these things have happened in the process. The thing that you have to remember is that it can be done. It takes some hard work and some determination to do it. It can happen, and it has happened."

He also recalls lobbying to attract CBC FM into Swift Current as another effort which was a nice addition to the city art scene.

Rezansoff came to Swift Current to teach High School art, and it was that personal background in arts that fuelled his passion to share his love of arts and culture with the rest of the community.

"I just feel that the arts are a very significant part of the development of a society," he said. "Most societies are judged by and valued by the arts that they produce."

"My life's work was teaching art, so that was part of the situation. When I first came to town I started talking about an Art Gallery. I still remember a charming lady that said 'you'll never get an Art Gallery in Swift Current'. We had an Art Gallery within four years, which was a minor miracle."

He pointed out that Swift Current was lucky to be associated with a program that was occurring at the national level, and the City was able to attract Canada's first building constructed specifically as a National Exhibition Centre.

He also had a long association with the Swift Current Allied Arts Council and helped bring close to 400 performances over 45 years to Swift Current. The shows boasted an amazing range and featured talent from around the world. He had a long list of favourite performances, and every show hit the spot on some account, but he did single out shows by Roger Whittaker, Ben Heppner, Maureen Forester, and the Canadian Tenors. In fact, Swift Current hosted The Tenors during one of their first Canadian tour, and their performance fee has risen by six to seven times the fee that was paid in 2008 when they were part of the Stars for Saskatchewan tour.

Another memorable show discussed during last Friday's reception was an appearance by a Russian ballet company, with the performers accompanied by KGB officers.

 "It's worked out fairly well. We happened to be in the right place at the right time and put our efforts behind things. It worked."

"I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity. I've been pleased to be able to do what I've been able to do. I've worked with some very dedicated and conscious people in the community. Some have been there for the whole run. All of that comes together, but it only comes together if the community responds."

Rezansoff hoped that his legacy in the community would be being part of a determined group of arts volunteers who dared to think a small city could make a vibrant arts scene flourish.

"I guess the thing would be, in my mind, was creating a positive climate for the arts in small town, rural Saskatchewan," Rezansoff said.

"To be able to pull of what Swift Current has been able to do over the years has been pretty exceptional."

The afternoon reception afforded the community to salute Rezansoff for his diligent efforts over the years.

"I would like to thank Paul Rezansoff personally for his inspiration. Paul's drive to make things happen. And to give people and organizations the confidence to believe in a dream and to pursue it. The confidence to be bold about the importance of art. And Paul had the ability to be bold, and that was kind of wonderful," noted Kim Houghtaling, who has been Curator and Director of the Art Gallery of Swift Current since 1996.

He also saluted Rezansoff's drive to have art of all kinds, visual, performing and written, brought to the community to develop a sophisticated arts scene.

"The level of work that has been achieved through this gallery over the years was outstanding. Professionally-operated museum standard."

Shann Gowan, who coordinates the Blenders Concert Series and is the main organizer of the Windscape Kite Festival, saluted Rezansoff for leading the way in bringing concerts to the community over the years.  

"Paul brought entertainment to Swift Current that was never going to come any other way. I think he's been instrumental in making sure that we all had music in our lives. He was instrumental in starting up the Art Gallery."

Gowan, who had Rezansoff as her High School Art Teacher, added that he made a vital contribution to the arts scene and that the community should honour his accomplishments.

"I think he's done great things for this community that we wouldn't have been able to do without him. He's been invaluable to us."

Melanie Friesen, the current Vice President of the Swift Current Allied Arts Council, said Rezansoff inspired students both in and out of the classroom.

"Who knows how many kids have been inspired, not only in your classroom, but also just by the arts because of the concerts that you brought to our community."

In recognition of his volunteer service to the Arts Council, Friesen presented Rezansoff a work of art by Eric Uglem, a Swift Current artist of national renown and one of his former art students.

Rezansoff was overwhelmed by the gift, saying that receiving this artwork was as amazing highlight.

"I was thinking about winning the lottery this weekend. I just won the lottery, I have an Eric Uglem painting. It doesn't get much better," a teary Rezansoff said after the presentation.

Organizations: Swift Current Allied Arts Council, Sky Centre, Stars for Saskatchewan Art Gallery of Swift Current

Geographic location: Swift Current, Canada, Saskatchewan

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