One of East Vancouver’s major community events will have a different feel this year.
Normally during the annual Eastside Culture Crawl, art lovers are welcomed into studios and creative spaces without invitations.
Last year, according to executive director Esther Rausenberg, 23,000 visitors visited the Parker Street Studios alone. And this month, 86 artists at this 152,000-square-foot warehouse are participating in the Eastside Culture Crawl online.
But due to the spread of COVID-19, there won’t be hordes of people descending on the building because it will be closed during the Crawl.
“It needs to be put out there that all of those artists are open to personal visits,” Rausenberg emphasized to the Straight over the phone.
In fact, it’s possible to book appointments through the CultureCrawl.ca website for all the artists who are welcoming guest into their studios. There are 247 participating this year.
Rausenberg conceded that the pandemic will make it more challenging to drop by as many studios as in previous years.
But she also wanted to assure the public that the Crawl is following very stringent health protocols that have been approved by Vancouver Coastal Health.
“Even if they only come to one or two studios, it does give the public something to look forward to and plan for at a time when there’s very little going on with the performing arts, music, and dance,” she said.
Eastside Atelier spaces saved
For Rausenberg, a city without art becomes pretty boring in a hurry.
That’s one reason why she’s so thrilled that artists were able to save one of the Crawl’s major venues, Eastside Atelier, formerly known as William Clark Studios.
The 40 artists who were renting space there in April received eviction notices, according to Rausenberg. It would have marked the demise of a critical art space on the East Side.
But as a result of their activism—combined with the support of the Eastside Culture Crawl and the City of Vancouver—more than two dozen were able to remain.
“The building was being leased to somebody who then rented it out to artists,” Rausenberg said. “The [lessee] was unable to fulfill their lease obligations.
“Once we figured all of that out and started to connect with the owners, we now had a direct one-on-one relationship,” she continued. “So the artists at Eastside Atelier were able to renegotiate a lease with the actual owners. So it’s turned out to be a great situation.”
There’s a certain irony in all of this. At last year’s Eastside Culture Crawl, organizers hosted a forum on the displacement of artists and conducted a survey on the loss of artists’ spaces in what’s being called the Eastside Arts District.
This is an area bounded by East First Avenue and the waterfront, situated between Columbia Street and Victoria Drive.
In a subsequent report called City Without Art? No Net Loss+, the Eastside Culture Crawl Society determined that there were 1,612 artists in this area. However, 1,332 of them face the threat of displacement due to real-estate development.
Moreover, it revealed a loss of 400,000 square feet of artist space in this zone during the previous 10 years.
That prompted political action. As a result of a motion by Coun. Pete Fry, council instructed city staff to report back on recommendations for a declaration of an Eastside Arts District.
“That is going to have a pretty big impact on arts in this area—and, hopefully, ensuring that artists who are working here and producing here stay here,” Rausenberg said.
In the meantime, the Eastside Culture Crawl has expanded outside of its traditional boundaries as a result of a partnership with Skwachàys Lodge Gallery at 29 West Pender Street.
From Saturday (November 7) to November 23, it’s hosting an exhibit curated by Cheyenne (Natoyihkii) McGinnis, focusing on inspiring individuals as well as displacement in Indigenous communities.
One of the artists being featured is Hugh Kearney, a long-time participant in the Crawl.
“He just acquired his certificate of Indian status in 2017,” Rausenberg noted.