Change is coming to the Eastside Culture Crawl—but it won’t be wearing a Santa hat. Yes, the annual event’s timing has always been a little suspect. And yes, if you want to buy something for a loved one and wrap it up in festive tinsel, you can still call yourself a patron of the arts. But if Esther Rausenberg has her say, East Van’s “visual arts, design and crafts festival” is going to look less like a bazaar and more like a biennale—except, of course, that it’s still going to take place every year.
“I think when we started we did have it [Christmas] in mind, in terms of the timing,” says Rausenberg, who’s been involved with the Crawl since day one, first as an exhibiting artist and now as its executive director. “But it has evolved from that, and I really don’t feel that anymore.
“I was at Circle Craft [Christmas Market] recently, and oh my goodness, when you walked in it was all Christmas,” she continues. “And it’s interesting, because after participating [in the Crawl] for so many years as an artist I hadn’t really had the opportunity and the time to go around and visit the other artists’ studios. And of course last year I did, and I was really quite impressed with the quality of the work that is out there—and it doesn’t feel or look like a Christmas fair. It really is more about the visual arts.”
The biggest change Rausenberg has made, in her second year as executive director, has been to expand the Crawl from three days to four. This year, it runs Thursday to Sunday (November 20 to 23). “Many of the people who were coming through mentioned the fact that they would like to see more art, and that the opportunity wasn’t there for them, given the limited opening hours. So we’ve extended them,” she explains. “Given the fact that we now have 400-plus artists, and a lot of the people who come want to see a lot of those artists, we’re now providing them with additional opportunities to do just that.”
She’s also beginning to expand the Crawl’s educational and social-engagement side. This year, for the first time, a program of art-themed short documentaries will be screened in the parking lot of 1000 Parker Street. The idea is to educate, but also to create a festive meeting place for Crawlers; next year, Rausenberg says, the Moving Art program will be expanded to lure attendees to some of the event’s more out-of-the-way locales. Other “live” activities will include hands-on demonstrations by some of the Crawl’s more craft-oriented participants. “That’s a bit more challenging for somebody who’s a painter or a photographer,” Rausenberg notes. “So fiveleft leather is going to be doing some demonstrations, and Melk Studio is going to be doing some printmaking demonstrations in which they’re actually going to be working with kids, in terms of creating some art.
“One of the things that the Crawl is also doing is that it has this program called Studio 101, and it’s working with the inner-city schools that are within our geographic catchment area. And Studio 101 is this great program where we bring the students to the artists’ studios, so they get a sense of how the artist is making their art, they get to participate in making a piece of art, and then they get to take that home with them.”
Also new this year is art that’s for looking at rather than buying, most notably the eatART Foundation’s environmentally themed moving sculptures, which include a massive, 50-foot-long electromechanical Titanoboa.
“Our one-ton serpent!” Rausenberg enthuses. “Well, you see, that’s another sentiment that we’re trying to bring to the Crawl. We’re really trying to encourage people who have installations or large-scale pieces. They’re not necessarily up for sale, but they’re something that I think will engage the public and there will be a great deal of discussion around.”
Which isn’t to say that, should you happen to own a 50-foot stocking, you won’t be able to bring Titanoboa home. It’s just that with the Eastside Culture Crawl, the sights and the sites are sometimes as important as the sales.