By Nick Laba, Now-Leader contributor
There is a wall in a small office space in North Delta coloured with a hand-painted map of the region.
The green and mustard tones of the mural were brushed on by Dave Stevens, a beloved artist who has lived and taught in the area for over 30 years.
At the end of the month, Stevens will be moving with his wife Diane to Nanaimo to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
The office with the muraled wall belongs to Ravi Kahlon, the MLA for Delta North, who honoured Stevens’s contributions to the community alongside friends and fellow artists on Monday, June 17.
“I know you don’t like these kind of things, but I wanted to recognize you for the contribution that you made to the arts community, to Delta,” said Kahlon, who presented Stevens with a certificate of recognition.
“When I got elected, the first thing I did was reach out to you and say, I need this office to become North Delta, and you helped me with that, and so I’m grateful.”
Stevens said it just seemed natural to make the arts more visible and more a part of North Delta.
“Teaching in the schools was kind of the first thing, and then seeing that there really wasn’t much out there once the kids graduated,” he said.
“So, getting involved with the arts council, and then doing the Stomp and being involved with Watershed [Gallery] and all of those things just seemed normal and natural.”
Over the years, Stevens’s engagements with the cultural fabric of his community have been numerous.
He is one of the original organizers of the annual Delta Studio Stomp, an event where local artists open their workshop doors to the public.
Several of his artworks have been featured in public displays and he has volunteered his art by teaching at NightShift, an organization providing outreach for people suffering from poverty, homelessness, and substance use issues.
Stevens began studying art at Langara College in 1972. After completing a four-year secondary arts teaching degree at the University of British Columbia, and marrying Diane in 1977, he got an unlikely start to his educational career – in prison. His first job teaching art was at Matsqui Institution, a medium-security prison in Abbotsford.
In 1982, Stevens then moved to North Delta, picking up work as a teacher on call. He then taught for six years in South Delta before returning to North Delta Secondary to teach for the remainder of his career, from 1990 to 2012.
He said his approach to teaching has always been to facilitate.
“I always felt they came already formed; all I was doing was kind of facilitating by encouraging,” he said. “I’d just try to arrange shows, or provide materials or encouragement, give them feedback.”
Many people who attended the ceremony at Kahlon’s office noted that Stevens’s calm, confident demeanour made him a natural teacher and motivational leader in the local arts scene.
“How do you replace somebody who is central to so much of what has happened with the visual arts around here?” said Wayne Turner, a local photographer who also has work on display at Kahlon’s office.
Stevens and Turner met while working on the arts council when it still existed. Turner also helped found the Delta Studio Stomp with Stevens.
Even after retiring, Turner said Stevens would return to the school he used to teach at to paint sets for their productions.
Kahlon said Stevens understands that art can build and strengthen the fabric of a community. When he saw how much Stevens was engaged with North Delta and its youth, he said he wanted art to be the first thing people saw when they stepped into his office.
“He painted this mural, which helps put our historical context to this space,” Kahlon said. “Everyone comes in, the first thing they see is Dave Stevens’s work.”
Stevens and Diane said they’re looking forward to publishing more books together and integrating with the arts community on the island, but they will miss their time in North Delta.
Diane said they will not be able to replace the connections they made after living within the area for 32 years.