After years of relocation, Vancouver's Centre A art gallery establishes a longterm home in Chinatown

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      In a city that's constantly tearing down its past and rebuilding its present, permanence has become a rarity. That's been one of the challenges for Vancouver's Asian art gallery Centre A which has moved every few years since it launched in 1999.

      But after several relocations, the gallery is finally putting down some roots.

      It's in the process of moving into a 3,300-square-foot space on the second floor of the Sun Wah Centre at 268 Keefer Street, which is transforming into an arts and community hub. The Sun Wah Centre will also house the Pride in Art Society's first art gallery, as well as the offices of Indian Summer Arts Society, RicePaper magazine, and B.C. Artscape.

      In an interview at the new space, executive director and curator Tyler Russell told the Georgia Straight that they will take possession on January 1 and the gallery is expected to be completed by early 2019.

      This new location will mark the first longterm home for the gallery. It was first located at 849 Homer Street, near the Vancouver Public Library's central branch. It then moved to a street-level spot at 2 West Hastings Street in Gastown.

      Since 2013 Centre A has been most recently located at 229 East Georgia Street, only a few blocks away. That former storefront space, which included an upstairs special collections library, was 1,500 square feet—about half the size of the new location.

      Centre A's new location at the Sun Wah Building is currently under development.
      Craig Takeuchi

      The growth in size will offer multiple opportunities.

      He compared the previous limitations to the Japanese postmodern concept of superflat, where everything is only happening in the current moment.  

      "The way we were before, it's always been this kind of ephemeral event that occurs," Russell said. He explained that previously visitors were only able to take in one exhibit at a time whereas now there's potential for two or three exhibitions to be shown simultaneously.

      In addition, the new layout will provide easier access to their reading room, allowing visitors to delve into history and other information.

      Accordingly, the new premises will provide a greater context in both depth and breadth for appreciating and understanding art.

      "What's exciting from my perspective is this idea that you're going to be able to put what you're seeing into a historical context or into a context of accumulated knowledge," Russell said.

      With Asian Canadian art having established a few decades of history, the idea of a more permanent Centre A has a number of symbolic meanings.

      On an international outlook, deputy director Natalie Tan said that after U.S. President Donald Trump was elected, she said she felt even more responsibility to ensure Centre A continues on due to shifting social values in the wake of Trump's election.

      "As an institution where we hold very strongly the values of upholding diversity, we felt that was very threatened," she said. "For me personally, I've always valued Centre A as a place where someone could come and find themselves represented and not be so alone."

      Meanwhile on the local front, Chinatown has been a major focal point for debates about Vancouver real estate and gentrification.

      For Canada's only public gallery dedicated to contemporary Asian and Asian diaspora art to remain fixed in a neighbourhood that is witnessing an erosion of historic Asian Canadian culture (not to mention proximity to the former Japantown, which was disassembled during the Second World War internment of Japanese Canadians) offers a reassertion of Asian Canadian presence.

      But Russell also says that the gallery is making "a value statement" by going against the trend towards transience and dislocation amid the controversial and rapid changes throughout the city, including Chinatown.

      "We're not only valuing diversity but we're also valuing memory," he said. He added that it will allow them ask questions such as "How do we value memory in the production of our urban landscape?" and "How is it that we just erase on the space that we're on, constantly?"

      The year that their lease expires—2047—also has symbolism: it marks the final year of the handover of Hong Kong.

      "The diversity that we champion is not necessarily only for Vancouver," Russell said. "I think we need to also think of ourselves as a champion of diversity for Asia-Pacific and how diversity is experienced throughout the region."

      Centre A's annual general meeting at 6 p.m. tonight (December 8) will include an orientation of the new space and a discussion about Centre A's future.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook