Hostess. Dishwasher. Patron. Supporter. Toilet bowl scrubber.
These are just a few of the titles that describe the volunteer efforts of Delores Mori, whose affiliation with SAGA Public Art Gallery and the Shuswap Arts Council dates back to the early 1990s.
But the word Mori says best describes her position is “mom.”
“Somebody asked me if I am the curator and when I said ‘no,’ they said ‘well, what’s your title then?” laughs Mori. “‘I’m the mother here,’ I said and he said ‘what does that mean?’ I said, ‘I do all the jobs your mother did with the same pay.’”
Far from complaining, Mori says she feels blessed to have the art gallery in her life.
“I’ve been here since the doors open, I carry the history – some of it really deeply,” she notes with her infectious laugh. “I have been blessed with tons of energy and luckily found a place to burn it.”
While not an artist herself, as so many presume, Mori is quick to note the enrichment art has added to her life.
“I look around and think ‘my God,’ I’ve been totally enriched and blessed by hanging around here, that’s for sure,” she says. “I rub against so many different people; it keeps you on your toes and keeps you rich.”
Mori is quick to deflect the spotlight onto the army of volunteers who have supported the gallery in the past and those who continue to give of their time and talents.
“In hindsight, I can see how blessed we were with the people who have shown up when we needed them,” she says. “We are so lucky, people buy into the place.”
A member of the arts council in 1994, when the organization appealed to the council of the day for the building vacated by the library, Mori says acquiring the gallery involved many clandestine meetings.
“Peter Kilby was very savy about that, he knew who to schmooze and brought in the councillors and showed what our plans were,” she laughs, acknowledging Peter Tidd, Bernd Hermanski and Ian McDiarmid, among others. “Bryan Kassa arrived when we needed financial help.”
The first nine years were operated without funding, says Mori, giving credit to the amazing energy of the many community volunteers who pitched in to help.
There were struggles other than financial in the beginning too. Mori recalls how both SAGA and the arts council wanted the building.
“I was sent as liaison to the SAGA board to keep the peace,” she says, noting the gallery got the lease and then, when they couldn’t finance it anymore, the arts council took it over.”
By then, the gallery space was established, but they had a different vision for the building.
“They were administrators, they weren’t interested in coming to openings – they never bought into it.”
Now the groups have amalgamated, eliminating the need for two sets of books. Members from both boards were told they were welcome, but a few were ready to retire, making the consolidation timely.
While securing funding was one of the reasons the gallery has moved ahead so well, Mori credits the arrival of executive director Tracey Kutschker as having a huge impact.
“We have the same vision; I couldn’t think of a better person to take over driving the bus – and now we have Diana (Pratt-Johnson),” she says. “It’s just a really nice atmosphere here; everybody respects everybody. It’s fabulous. Every day is a good day.”
Mori says Kutschker always has a new dream and credits her with the introduction of technology that has expanded the gallery’s ability to hold exhibitions that go beyond hanging art on the wall.
“I always tell people we got the building and dreamt about having a gallery, and when the dream turns out even better because you’ve created a gallery and well-used community gathering place, and the fact we’ve saved this beautiful heritage building, it makes me really happy,” she says. “I drive home from jazz night or an opening and I think, my God, what a life I have. I couldn’t ask for a better one.”
Recently honoured with a Queen’s Jubilee Medal, Mori says it reflects only her work at the gallery.
“I am not bragging, I earned it, I didn’t get if for just being cute,” she laughs. “Nobody was more shocked than me, but it’s nice to have a little pat on the back.”
Also a member of the city’s heritage committee, the indefatigable Mori recites her grandmother’s oft-repeated mantra: “If a task is once begun never leave it till it’s done. Though the take be great or small, do it well or not at all.”
That she lives by that motto, is supported by gallery assistant Pratt-Johnson, who says Mori is involved at every level, dependable, supportive and welcoming.
“She has a vision for this building… and she keeps moving forward with all the changes – and she does it quietly, whether she’s in the kitchen washing a million dishes or cleaning the bathrooms,” Pratt-Johnson says, noting Mori also supports many artists by buying their work. “She’s a character, but without her the gallery wouldn’t be where it is today.”