Art, said the neo-Dadaist painter-sculptor Robert Rauschenberg, is about taking chances.
And when it comes to a creative endeavour, what could be riskier than pouring your heart and soul into something, then leaving it in a city park, subject to the whims of passers-by and the vagaries of Mother Nature?
It’s a question that Cheryl Cheeks, creator of the Dude Chilling Art Exchange, is familiar with but undeniably positive about.
“I have faith that people will have magical experiences with the art exchange,” she says. “You don’t know how people are going to interact with it, but you have to believe in the best in people.”
Cheeks’s project, a small booth that operates on the simple concept of “leave some art, take some art,” stands on the edge of the Brewery Creek Community Garden in Vancouver’s Guelph Park. The epicentre of a Mount Pleasant neighbourhood in transition, the park—whose signage was recently (and surreptitiously) re-badged “Dude Chilling Park”—plays host to a diverse mix of families, Main Street hipsters, artists, urban farmers, seniors, and public revellers of all stripes.
“Mount Pleasant has proven to be a really creative spot, not only for myself but all of the people I run into,” says Cheeks. “I think that’s why, when I was looking for a location, the garden came to mind, that Dude Chilling Park came to mind, because it’s this hub.”
Checking in regularly, one is likely to find a wide and ever-changing body of work. With examples of traditional drawing and painting, collage, writing, sculpture, photography, works by children, and even found objects, the exchange serves as a cornucopia of disciplines.
While the art exchange’s concept may be straightforward, the net result is frequently a fascinating meditation on just what exactly it is that constitutes art.
Which brings us back to Rauschenberg: after all, there’s often something neo-Dada about the cumulative—and individual—contents of the booth. What was the intention of the person who left the small container of Q-Tips? Was it a statement, a joke, or simply someone who had too much stuff in their pockets? Is it pop art, absurdist art, or outsider art? Is it art at all? The answer, of course, is left up to the viewer to decide.
An artist herself, Cheeks came up with the idea for the exchange last winter, after leaving some of her prints and photographs at the free library booth at East 10th Avenue and St. George Street. “I went by a few days later and all the photographs and the art prints were gone,” she recalls. “That’s where the idea was born—I realized that if the community wants a book exchange, maybe they’d want an art exchange too.”
After securing a $350 grant from the Vancouver Foundation and the enthusiastic approval of the community garden, Cheeks set about collecting the materials, primarily recycled and donated, to build the structure. Constructed by her father, Peter, a retired carpenter, the lovingly built booth was installed and inaugurated late last month.
Cheeks’s enthusiasm and optimism are irrepressible. “You know, I have so much happiness about this because I just don’t know what’s going to happen. And I get a kick out of that—the not-knowing. It’ll continue to change and evolve and we’ll see what happens.”
Whatever happens, Cheeks is hoping the Dude Chilling Art Exchange is just the beginning.
“I would love to see other neighbourhoods follow along, to see other art exchanges pop up around Vancouver, and British Columbia, and even nationwide.”
She pauses, then adds cheerfully, “Let’s go global!”