Vancouver Design Week celebrates city's creative community with vibrant comeback

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      This year’s Vancouver Design Week may look a little different from its first incarnation, but rest assured that the interdisciplinary fete’s mandate remains the same.

      “Our mission is to increase awareness of this incredible impact of design, the appreciation of design and the design process, and the transformative impact it has on important social and cultural issues,” Jennifer Cutbill, director and cofounder of VDW, told a crowd of media and design professionals at a recent news conference in Gastown.

      With the return of the festival’s signature Open Studios series and a slew of fresh, design-oriented events, VDW is making a comeback. But if you’re unfamiliar with the biannual function, let’s get you caught up: founded in 2014 and run entirely by volunteers from the local design community, VDW champions creative minds in industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, and everything in between. The debut 14-day program included various talks, exhibitions, and workshops that offered the public a glimpse into the studios and inner workings of some of Vancouver’s most talked-about design figures, but it failed to return in 2016 due to a lack of funding.

      With an abridged program branded as Vancouver Design Week(end) taking place around the city this Friday to Sunday (May 12 to 14), however, VDW has its eyes set on a more robust event next year that will be supported by the city. “All of this—this smaller weekend event—is really ramping up toward our larger 10-day festival in 2018,” said Cutbill, who is also an architect at the Vancouver-based Local Practice Architecture + Design. “There’s just too much talent in the city to not have a fuller festival.”

      This weekend, Vancouverites can whet their design appetites with VDW’s jam-packed schedule of studio and building tours, food-and-beverage tastings, and more. The three-day event kicks off this Friday (May 12) with a free public-launch party in downtown Vancouver. Cohosted by HCMA Architecture + Design, this celebration takes place in Alley Oop—a laneway just south of West Hastings Street between Granville Street and Seymour Street that was transformed into a vibrant hangout space in 2016—and will include music, refreshments, and other entertainment. (Reserve your spot online.)

      Local architect Jennifer Cutbill is the cofounder and director of Vancouver Design Week, which aims to celebrate and showcase the talents of the city's diverse design community.
      Local Practice

      More than 45 local designers—including architect Michael Green, woodworkers Union Wood Co., and eco-conscious women’s-wear producer Nicole Bridger—will then be opening the doors to their workspaces on Saturday (May 13) and Sunday (May 14) for VDW’s Open Studios series. There, Vancouverites can ask questions about completed and ongoing projects while learning more about the city’s diverse design scene. The Open Buildings program, meanwhile, will tour locals through Telus Garden, the recently opened Crosstown Elementary School, and other sites of interest.

      Ticketed tastings at hot spots like Timbertrain Coffee Roasters and Callister Brewing—as well as a Pantone-inspired cocktail-mixing session conducted by Vancouver-based tea company Tealeaves—will offer an unconventional way to experience the discipline. “They’re a gateway or open door for people who may not think they’re interested in design but love the great food and beverages in our city,” Cutbill said.

      Attendees of VDW’s first iteration may also notice that the citywide celebration now takes place in the spring rather than the fall. This decision was made in the hopes that VDW can coordinate a larger fete in the future with cities such as Portland, which hosts its own design week in April. “We’ve been talking to all these organizations and we’ve been saying, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we did something Pacific Northwest?’ ” Cutbill explained. “So the thought pushing us toward the spring was to try and refine and do something in the Pacific Northwest as a larger design community.”

      Compounded with VDW’s formal membership in the World Design Weeks Network, which connects organizers of more than 100 design-week events around the globe, these changes are meant to produce a more sustainable future for the multidisciplinary festival while carving a place for Vancouver at the international design table.

      Support from Vancouverites, however, remains vital in ensuring a bright future for our homegrown design players. “The city supporting this [Vancouver Design Week] is really key in enabling us to stand on that world stage,” Cutbill stressed. “And I think they need to see the support of the community and the broader public to really start to invest in the positive impact of design.”

      For more information about Vancouver Design Week(end), or to purchase tickets to a tasting event, visit .

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.