South Surrey arts advocate awarded honorary degree from KPU

Thu, May 17, 2018

Over 7,000 artists have shown their work in the Mind and Matter Gallery created for them more than 50 years ago by Mary Mikelson and her late husband Arnold.

On May 30, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) will present Mary with an honorary degree for her unwavering dedication for over half a century to Surrey’s arts and culture sector.

“It is a great honour to be recognized for doing what I love and has been my life mission and will continue until I die. To promote beauty and compassion so we make a better world for the future generation should be everybody’s mission,” said Mary. “Art makes you feel good.”

Mary’s Canadian story began in 1962. After escaping Hungary following the revolution, she found herself working in Edmonton, Alberta where her amazing life and love story began when she met Arnold Mikelson. Arnold was a mechanical engineer and chief draftsman for an architectural firm. On their first date, Mary was introduced to Arnold’s wood sculpting. She immediately recognized his talent and suggested he was a fool to be wasting his time drawing lines on drafting paper all day. Shortly thereafter they moved to B.C. were married and in 1965 bought the property in South Surrey where their Mind and Matter Gallery exists to this day.

The small A-frame gallery was responsible for launching the careers of numerous Canadian artists. At those same artists’ request, the Mikelsons started annual festival of arts in the early ‘70s to provide a venue for artists to interact with the public and get first-hand reactions to their work. The festival was the first of its kind in the area, and ran until 2013. 

Believers in the importance of a formal education, the couple also created a visual arts program for children. Mary taught visiting classes of local school children about art appreciation and creativity, while Arnold offered demonstrations of wood carving. Forty years later, a visitor to the studio recounted how his early experience on a class visit to the Mind and Matter Gallery inspired him to become an artist and an art teacher.

“It’s [art] obviously something that is needed in the community because it has grown over the years,” said Mary at the 40th anniversary celebration the Arnold Mikelson Festival of Arts. “It’s a good education for the children. It’s a good thing to introduce them towards the arts and it can change their whole lives because they’re looking for something beautiful to feed their soul.”

When Arnold passed away in 1984, Mary chose to continue running the Mind and Matter Gallery. Nearly 20 years later, she published her memoir Mind and Matter – Life With Arnold Mikelson to commemorate their time together.

With her steadfast commitment to Surrey’s arts and culture sector, Mary served as a White Rock City Councilor and received the Order of White Rock for outstanding community service. In 2008, she was presented with the Surrey Civic Treasure in Award. In 2012 she received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. She is also the recipient of the Order of White Rock for outstanding community service, and received the Province of British Columbia Certificate of Beauty and Enlightenment.

Mary is the former president of the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce, and has been credited with bringing business and the arts together. She also sat on the City of Surrey’s Public Art Advisory Committee, and is currently president of the South Surrey and White Rock Art Society, continuing to share her love and passion for the arts with others in the community.

“To say Mrs. Mikelson is an arts advocate is an understatement,” said KPU president and vice-chancellor Dr. Alan Davis. “She has dedicated her life to promoting formal arts education and providing a space for our local artistic community to flourish.”

Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Members of the university community and the community at large are invited to nominate candidates. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, prominent people in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally or globally.