Arts Underground gets national nod

The Hougen Group of Companies has won a Globe and Mail Business for the Arts Partnership award. It received the honour last week for creating Arts Underground, the spacious gallery and workshop used by the Yukon Arts Society.

The Hougen Group of Companies has won a Globe and Mail Business for the Arts Partnership award.

It received the honour last week for creating Arts Underground, the spacious gallery and workshop used by the Yukon Arts Society.

About five years ago, the space was a shuttered hardware shop. The Hougens decided to extensively remodel the 4,500-square-foot space so that it’d be fit to use as an art gallery, workshop and gift shop.

Then they agreed to waive the society’s rent and utilities bills for a decade. Rolf Hougen reckons the total contributions are worth $1 million.

He credits his wife, Margaret, and his daughter in law, Mary-Jane Warshawski, for the move.

But Hougen, who made a fortune by bringing cable television to the Yukon, has long prided himself on being an art patron.

“This was a great personal interest of Marg and myself. We didn’t think of it as giving up money.”

Yukon Arts Society is more than 40 years old and has more than 170 members. Before the creation of Arts Underground, the society was located in a smaller space downtown.

Having the current space as a showroom for monthly exhibits and as a space to hold workshops is a big boon, said executive director Janelle Hardy.

“It’s pretty special that we have this large space, right on Main Street.”

The society nominated the Hougen Group for the best entrepreneurial partnership award. Hougen didn’t think much of it at the time – until he learned they had won.

Arts Underground features two galleries. The first, operated by the arts society, currently features Jesse Devost’s semi-abstract, cartographically-inspired acrylic paintings.

The second, the Hougen Heritage Gallery, features archival photos of small-town northern British Columbia. About six months ago, the space featured photographs from Hougen’s own collection, dating back to the 1940s and 1960s.

Hougen is a shutterbug. He once ran a photography studio and darkroom. And he possesses several thousand historic photographs – most of which were taken by him.

Also in the studio, off to the side, is a large workshop where artists can knead clay. Nearby, completed works are baked in a kiln.

Workshops are regularly held on various styles of painting.

And the arts society also offers its members nuts-and-bolts workshops to teach artists how to sell their work.

In the mid-1960s, Hougen entertained AY Jackson, one of the original Group of Seven painters, and his friend Maurice Haycock, who is renowned for his paintings of arctic landscapes.

Later, Haycock returned with his wife to drive the Dempster Highway in Hougen’s motorhome.

Last week, the Hougens travelled to Toronto to pick up their award at a swanky ceremony attended by about 400 people at the Carlu.

“The champagne flowed freely,” said Hougen.

And, as chance would have it, John D. McKellar, a bigshot lawyer who received the lifelong achievement award, visited the Yukon last year.

“He knew the Yukon quite well,” said Hougen.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.

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