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Vancouver State of the Arts: Alive and Well and Living on the Eastside

Alfred DePew, Monoprint, 2007

Face it. When it comes to the arts, we have a terrible reputation. Back East, they assume we mistake Snowboarding for High Culture because of the altitude.

Before I moved here, people said. “Yes, I hear it’s lovely, but … won’t you get bored? I mean there’s no real culture, is there?”

When I pointed to Jane Rule and Emily Carr, I could hear these Easterners think what they dared not say: a lesbian writer and a painter who kept a monkey doth not a culture make.

I will defend both Rule and Carr unto death, but therein lies the trouble. You get defensive, and Easterners grow even smugger.

But then, they’ve never been to the Eastside Culture Crawl! It’s not the number, nor even the diversity of artists represented; it’s an energy and spirit powerful enough to soften even the most cynical eastern heart. In fact it’s enough to make some envious. 

Of what?

Community—essential, wide-ranging, friendly, democratic. The spirit of a community in action, aware of itself, celebrating even as it voices serious concerns for its future …

I started off at Basic Inquiry, where right away I found engaging work and conversation. My personal favourite: Elizabeth Harris-Nichols’ series of drawings called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Also interesting is the work of Joel Libin.

Then it was on to 901 Main Street to say hello and good-bye, for the artists have been evicted to make way for the New Gentry. When I climbed the stairs, I tell you, it was déjà vu all over again. Just like being back East not so long ago. The same feel of the end of something that will never be again. Some say artists have been in that building for 30 years. Many are relocating to new quarters on McLean Street. And I’m struck again by the resilience that artists share with the Bedouins—an ability to pick up and keep moving. 

Often when I stand in front of work I like, I laugh out loud. I don’t know what it is—something about sheer delight, which is what I felt when I saw “Mount Katherine Ann Atkins National Park” by—you guessed it—Katherine Atkins.

Next stop: 1000 Parker Street: everywhere colour, fabric, texture, and people talking about tools, materials and process—as well as the neighborhood gossip and some haggling over prices. The kind of marketplace I like, even though by this point, my eyes were beginning to glaze over—but not before I saw the work of Mia Weinberg and David Robinson, both of which, quite literally took my breath away. 

Once again, what impressed me every bit as much as the work was the sense of irony, play, humour, and friendship among the artists themselves. A community we all too often forget we actually have. A community that thrives not because, but in spite of crisis. A community that needs our enthusiastic and spirited support, so that it can keep on inspiring us year round in the way it does each November at the Culture Crawl.








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