My Whistler – Dr. Curtis Collins

Museum curator, outdoors enthusiast

Story by David Burke | Images By Joern Rohde

Maria Lundgren

Name: Dr. Curtis Collins

Occupation: Director and Chief Curator, Audain Art Museum

During a walk-through of the Audain Art Museum’s (AAM) recent visiting exhibition titled Masters of Print: Rembrandt and Beyond, which was on loan from the National Gallery of Canada, Dr. Curtis Collins approached a small, unobtrusive, black-and-white print displayed alongside others on the wall. Squinting at the diminutive image before him, the AAM’s director and chief curator said excitedly, “This is the first time there’s ever been Rembrandts in Whistler. I’m just gonna put that out there.”
It's no surprise he would find that exciting. Collins has, after all, made art his life’s work, and his résumé — he has worked in both curatorial and professorial roles in seven Canadian provinces and the Yukon Territories — demonstrates his passion and commitment to the field. It’s even less surprising that a man who admitted to being “hyperactive” has other, less academic passions — among them paddleboarding, cross-country skiing, cycling, and disc golf.

When Collins was growing up in Cornwall, Ont., his parents got him a doodle art kit one Christmas. He quickly realized he could make his own poster-sized canvasses and start creating art — much to his mother’s delight. “I’m a fairly hyperactive guy,” Collins said of himself, both then and now. “When I was sitting calm[ly] at the kitchen table drawing, my mom was really happy because then I wasn’t bouncing off the walls.”

Collins, who assumed his AAM role in 2018, said he thinks his expertise in Canadian art and passion for outdoor pursuits made him a good fit for the job. Last winter, he cross-country skied more than 100 times. In summer, one of his favourites is stand-up paddleboarding off the dock next to his home along Alta Lake.
“Let’s just say that fine arts doesn’t attract a lot of downhill or cross-country skiers, as a rule,” Collins says. “The effort here is for this museum to be part of this community, and also part of the Vancouver arts scene, and to be part of this community, you’ve got to be outside. “Skiing, cycling, paddleboarding, is kind of where I get my best ideas for shows and things we do here, but also where I work out a lot of the problems that happen during my day.”

How did you first become interested in working and playing in Whistler?
In January 2018, while on a flight from Minneapolis to Edmonton, I noticed an online posting for the Director of the Audain Art Museum. At the time, I was serving as a Professor at McEwan University; however, the thought of leading such a unique museum nestled in the Coast Mountain Range was very enticing.

What were your first impressions of the community, and how have those impressions evolved over the past five-plus years?
I was immediately impressed by the quality of life that Whistlerites enjoy year-round with regard to the many athletic and cultural activities available, as well as their pride in sharing such experiences with newcomers and tourists alike.


You’ve said that the AAM aims to increase its presence in the Canadian art scene over time. Can you cite examples of how that’s beginning to happen? 
Since opening in 2016, the AAM has gradually established itself as a premier art venue in Canada via its permanent collection and special exhibitions. The recent acquisition of Emily Carr’s outstanding 1940 painting Survival was an important moment in the growth of the museum’s holdings. Similarly, the launch of Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob exhibition in Whistler in March 2022 and its Canada-wide tour to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Toronto, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and Kelowna Art Gallery is a major achievement for the AAM.

What are your favourite (outdoor) Whistler hangouts?
This is an easy question, as my favourite outdoor place in Whistler (and the world) is the Callaghan Valley, where I enjoy countless cross-country ski days during the winter and spring. A close second would be the Lost Lake Disc Golf course, as much of my leisure time in the summer and fall is spent hurtling a Frisbee through the air. And lastly, Alta Lake, where I paddleboard and swim on a regular basis.

Besides the AAM, what are your favourite (indoor) Whistler hangouts? 
My favourites are the Fix Café at Nita Lake [Lodge] which serves a wonderful latté, and Alta Bistro in the Village with its fine dining and incredible cocktails (courtesy of Tommy, the genial bartender)!