Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Bill Reid Gallery and The Jewish Museum & Archives Of BC Present Canadian Premiere Exhibition 'Keeping The Song Alive'

The exhibit runs November 2, 2022 to March 19, 2023.

Bill Reid Gallery and The Jewish Museum & Archives Of BC Present Canadian Premiere Exhibition 'Keeping The Song Alive'

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art presents the Canadian premiere exhibition of Keeping the Song Alive from November 2, 2022 to March 19, 2023. Guest curated by Cheryl Kaka'solas Wadhams and co-developed with the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC, Keeping the Song Alive shares the mostly unknown story of the decades-long work between ethnomusicologist Dr. Ida Halpern and the late Kwakwaka'wakw Chiefs Billy Assu and Mungo Martin to document hundreds of sacred and traditional songs that otherwise would have been erased due to the Potlatch Ban and suppression of Northwest Coast Indigenous culture.


Through a rich mix of traditional music and regalia, contemporary art, film, and historical documentation, Keeping the Song Alive celebrates a unique friendship, the spiritual power of music, and the beauty of preserving ceremonial art and culture for future generations. For Kwakwaka'wakw peoples, songs are an essential part of cultural knowledge and ceremonial life, part of the rights and privileges of Chiefs that strengthen identity and lineage. The Big House is a place of belonging where songs, language, drumming, and dancing come together, and where the next generation is continuing these traditions in a good way.

"As a Jewish immigrant fleeing the Holocaust, Dr. Ida Halpern understood the impact of cultural erasure," says Wadhams, Guest Curator, Keeping the Song Alive. "Assu and Martin trusted her as an ally to preserve and record songs fundamental to the Kwakwaka'wakw culture that would have been lost forever due to the Potlatch Ban. Decades later, they couldn't have imagined how enduring and profound their collaboration would be. This exhibition reflects on the tremendous impacts of the Potlatch Ban, residential schools, and the Indian Act, and showcases the significant works by contemporary artists that have been inspired by these recordings."

The exhibition will feature the original audio recorder, records, research notes, and photographs from Dr. Halpern's career as an ethnomusicologist in Canada, following her escape from Nazi Europe in the 1930s. These significant historical artifacts will be displayed alongside contemporary Kwakwaka'wakw artists who are actively responding to the history and meaning of these recordings. Ellipsis, an installation of 137 copper LPs critiquing the ongoing oppression of the Indian Act, was created by Sonny Assu, the great great grandson of Chief Billy Assu. The powerful installation, Concealment, by Andy Everson, combines a kitchen table tea party with potlatch imagery, which recalls a time when his family had to hide their ceremonial activity. A historic headdress by Chief Robert Harris will also be displayed alongside a ceremonial robe, apron, and headdress by artist and community leader Maxine Matilpi.

Visitors will have the chance to listen to a selection of the songs recorded with Chiefs Mungo Martin and Billy Assu in the 1950s. Several films by renowned 'Na̱mǥis Filmmaker Barb Cranmer will immerse viewers in the potlatch experience, bringing together songs, dances and drumming in traditional ceremony. A replica potlatch drum log can also be played by visitors. Finally, the exhibition presents important conversations with a new generation of artists and community members who have been able to reconnect with their culture and heritage because of Halpern, Assu, and Martin's collective work.

Kwakwaka'wakw communities continue to work to regain traditional knowledge about the ceremonies that were lost due to colonization. Halpern's recordings, many completed when it was illegal for Indigenous peoples to practice their culture, are a critical part of this work, regaining one part of what has been lost. In 2017, Halpern's recordings, which date back to 1947, were added to the UNESCO Canada Memory of the World register.

Keeping the Song Alive, through historical information and a rich and immersive selection of contemporary art, audio, text, photographs and video, will offer visitors a chance to better understand the meaning of potlatch and the essentiality of music to ceremony. A series of artist talks, Kwakwaka'wakw dance and drum group performances, and hands-on workshops are being planned. In 2024, the exhibition will be remounted at the U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, BC.

Cheryl Kaka'solas Wadhams is a member of the ʼNa̱mǥis Nation with connections to the Maʼa̱mtagila, and Mama̱liliḵa̱la Tribes of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw Nation, a practicing artist, and also works as the Visitor Services and Gallery Shop Manager at the Bill Reid Gallery. She holds both a Degree in Aboriginal Studies and a Diploma in Small Business from Langara College, and her experience includes work with the BC Assembly of First Nations and Native Education College. Wadhams is an active member of the local Urban Kwakwaka'wakw Dance Group. She is a new Kwak'wala language learner and recently participated in the First Nations Endangered Language Program at UBC.

Bill Reid Gallery and The Jewish Museum & Archives Of BC Present Canadian Premiere Exhibition 'Keeping The Song Alive'


BroadwayWorld Logo Vote Now for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Vancouver Awards
Vote Nowvoting ends in



Preview: Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will come to Surrey, BC in 2023! Photo
To experience art in this way is an experience like no other! BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE will premiere in Surrey, BC in February 2023 at the Agriplex at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Selling over 4 million tickets so far, this exhibition has touched people all around the world.

GIRL BE HEARD! Honors Actress Gina Torres at Evolution Gala This Week Photo
In celebration of girls and young women everywhere and Girl Be Heard's growth and evolution in the last decade since its inception, the youth-focused performing arts nonprofit is hosting its gala, Evolution.

DanceHouse and The Cultch Present Canadian Premiere of SACRE Next Month Photo
DanceHouse and The Cultch present the Canadian premiere of Circa's enthralling and acrobatic Sacre, on stage January 17-21, 2023 at 8pm at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Voting Now Open For The 2022 BroadwayWorld Vancouver Awards Photo
Voting is now open for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Vancouver Awards! Nominations were reader-submitted and now our readers get to vote for their favorites.


More Hot Stories For You


GIRL BE HEARD! Honors Actress Gina Torres at Evolution Gala This WeekGIRL BE HEARD! Honors Actress Gina Torres at Evolution Gala This Week
December 7, 2022

In celebration of girls and young women everywhere and Girl Be Heard's growth and evolution in the last decade since its inception, the youth-focused performing arts nonprofit is hosting its gala, Evolution.

DanceHouse and The Cultch Present Canadian Premiere of SACRE Next MonthDanceHouse and The Cultch Present Canadian Premiere of SACRE Next Month
December 7, 2022

DanceHouse and The Cultch present the Canadian premiere of Circa's enthralling and acrobatic Sacre, on stage January 17-21, 2023 at 8pm at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Presentation House Theatre Launches 2023 Winter/Spring SeasonPresentation House Theatre Launches 2023 Winter/Spring Season
December 6, 2022

To get us through the coming months of cold, Presentation House Theatre presents a roster of returning audience favourites - from the award-winning Driving Me Crazy to the heartwarming Learning and Forgetting, the 2023 Winter/Spring season offers a host of playful productions to suit every palette.

Tickets Now On Sale For The Canadian DRAGON BALL SYMPHONIC ADVENTURE Concerts Tickets Now On Sale For The Canadian DRAGON BALL SYMPHONIC ADVENTURE Concerts 
December 2, 2022

Tickets are now on sale for the official “Dragon Ball Symphonic Adventure” concerts coming to Canada in 2023. Attendees will relive the storylines of both the original “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z” TV shows on screen in high-definition with fellow fans, while experiencing the music of both TV series powered by a renowned 60-person orchestra and the music of legendary Japanese composer Shunsuke Kikuchi.

Metro Theatre Will Present SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES UPMetro Theatre Will Present SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES UP
December 1, 2022

Metro Theatre presents Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up! by Catherine Morrison, directed by Claude A Giroux, with musical direction by Antony Knight, and choreography by Linzi Voth.