For the Culture Crawl this year, I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of visiting just two buildings, I’d try to wander around, hit as many studios as I could and get a broader feel of the whole festival.
The journey began Friday after work, at Main Street SkyTrain. I headed north up Station Street, briefly stopping to watch a drawing class—Crawlers were invited to join in, but I declined—and shoot a few photos of the neighbourhood. It’s not the prettiest, but I’d been meaning to try my hand at night photography, especially since a co-worker had invited me to his photography club (the latest meeting theme, as it happened? Night photography.) Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a tripod, so I had to improvise.
My first major stop was 901 Main Street. What used to be sleeping quarters for BC Electric Railway motormen is now home to five floors of art (Favourite piece: Dick Stout’s Madonna of the Lake, and another painting probably by Dick Stout, which I forgot to identify because I was just mesmerised by it: a huge painting of a teenage girl on a pier reaching for seagull flying overhead, with an old lady (I think) fishing in the background, and a dog jumping over the pier. Then you take another look and realise everybody’s flying: the girl, the bird, the dog, even the fishing lady is hovering a few inches above the pier. It’s an indescribable feeling of joy, and freedom.)
Various newspaper clippings in the lobby told me of plans to convert the building into high-end apartments, and that many artists’ studios in and around Vancouver were threatened by gentrification and rising rents. One of the articles mentioned a petition to protect the building, which I was totally ready to sign. It turns out the article was a year old, so that was moot. However, I was told development plans are on hold for the moment. That’s good, at least.
Then I headed off into Strathcona. And I have to admit, it was a new experience for me. Hell, I’ve only ever driven through it a couple of times, along Prior; I usually take either First or Hastings to get to or from the boonies. And I’m sorry it took me so long, because it’s a lovely neighbourhood. The oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver, apparently, with a rich history and ethnic diversity and lots of heritage homes. Homes like Matthew Freed’s pottery studio on Jackson Avenue. I went through many other studios that night, ending with the Old Church. Most of them were either live-in studios or the artists’ private homes.
On Saturday I walked around Strathcona for a bit, visiting a couple more studios. By that time I was more interested in looking at the community and how the art (and artists) fit into it, than just the art by itself. I headed further north, into the Downtown Eastside to visit some studios on Railway St (favourite artist: Galen Felde). A few of them were also live/work areas, too. With a nice view of the trains and the harbour, if you like that sort of thing, though I can’t say much for the rest of the neighbourhood. Heading back into Strathcona, I was glad to leave behind all the signs warning drug users and dealers that their descriptions will be sent to the police. I toyed with the idea of heading even further east to check out the studios I’d seen last year… but it was late, I was tired and still getting over a cold, so I decided to cut it short. One last visit to 901 Main on the way back to the SkyTrain, and that was the end of my Crawl.
But it’s inspired me to nurture my own art, such as it is. Photography, and Web design, but also drawing, which I’ve been practicing on and off (mostly off) for the last few years. And it’s given me food for thought: how art and culture are not separate from life, or community, or skyrocketing rents. How Vancouver needs something like the Culture Crawl, even though I’ve been happily ignoring it 362 days out of the year so far. But if it were to go, if more artists are forced out of their studios, this city would be a much poorer place. And I need to find out if the West End has something like this.