Article, Arts & Culture, Urban Issues, Community

Conversations with Arts and Cultural Workers in Vancouver on Below the Radar

January 10, 2024

Reflecting on our See How We Run! podcast series.

In December, we wrapped up our latest Below the Radar podcast series which featured conversations with arts and cultural workers in Vancouver. See How We Run! looks at local arts collectives and organizations, highlighting conversations about creation, spacemaking, accessibility, and self-determination within the framework of Vancouver’s cityscape. These conversations are inspired by the long history of artist-run centres in Vancouver, as well as the affordability crisis that threatens to make the city one without art. See How We Run! provokes ongoing conversation about the urban conditions under which interdisciplinary creativity and inclusive communities thrive.

Join us in looking back on these engaging and important conversations. Let's run it back!

See How We Run! Conversations with Arts and Cultural Workers

In this first episode, co-hosts and SFU VOCE staff Julia Aoki, Kathy Feng, and Samantha Walters introduce the series and what’s to come. In each episode, they speak to artists, consultants, administrators, and advocates at various stages in their career about how art and culture is made and sustained in Vancouver. Coming from working in various arts and cultural roles themselves, the three explain their interest in starting this series and where they hope the conversations lead.

 “Artist-run centres in my experience are sites for imagining alterity, for difference, for exercising collective forms of organization. And, you know, historically they were sort of, they emerged as spaces of distinction from public museums and private galleries. And, you know, discursively also they've— there's language around them being kind of radical spaces, spaces of radical otherness. But what is interesting to me is that they're also these sort of coherent institutional forms that have been recognized and legitimised through their state relations, through funding relationships, through reporting requirements to funders, and to the government if they're charities or nonprofit associations, and through the organisational structure, so there's this kind of inherent tension for— this is true of other organizations, I'm sure but cultural organizations that are trying to realise something different. Trying to, you know, do decolonial work, trying to work in a non hierarchical way, in an accessible way.”

— Julia Aoki

Backstage Spaces — with Alen Dominguez and Caitlin Jones

How do collective interdisciplinary performance creation spaces work to manage both affordability and meaningful inter-company collaboration?

Samantha spoke to Neworld Theatre’s managing director Alen Dominguez and consultant Caitlin Jones about Progress Lab 1422’s Backstage Spaces report. Progress Lab is a building in East Van that is a dedicated performance creation space and home to a collective of renowned theatre and dance companies, who collaboratively run the space with their nonprofit tenants’ board C-Space. Progress Lab is home to Company 605, Electric Company Theatre, the Frank Theatre, Neworld theatre, Playwrights Theatre Centre, rice & beans theatre, Rumble, Tara Cheyenne Performance, and Theatre Conspiracy.

The Backstage Spaces report provides an understanding of the issues performance creation spaces face in terms of affordability, city zoning, and property-tax, that threaten not only the companies tenancies but their creative capacities.

"I mean, I think it's so obvious to say, but it's, it's really incredible how much predatory real estate practices has taken away from us in this city, like, it's sort of impossible to quantify it, but just even you saying, like, it started as four theatre companies with a place to just kind of hang out and screw around and make stuff and do things like, that just doesn't feel possible in the city at all anymore. And, you know, I think we're making huge strides, necessarily important things in terms of making these spaces more accessible. Because those types of spaces were maybe not as accessible to other people, it was a particular group of people who had the wherewithal and the confidence to go out and do that. So I do think that there's been some huge strides maken in terms of like providing access to those spaces, but there's just such a complete and total lack of ability to be spontaneous, and try something out and take a space." 

— Caitlin Jones

Art as Agency, Autonomy and Community — with Demi London and Moroti George

Moving from space and collaboration to community accessibility, Julia is joined  by Gallery Gachet’s executive director Demi London and artistic director Moroti George to talk about the evolution of Gachet’s approach to supporting artistic creation and exhibition, in ways that are accessible to and supportive of people facing systemic barriers and social marginalisation. They  speak about the ways the gallery’s programming and operations changed over time in response to shifts in funding, space and the needs of the community, as well as their personal entry points into their work at the gallery.

"Gachet has always tried to create an art space, and a makerspace, and a thinking space for people who face systemic barriers and social marginalization, and have historically been edged out of what we think of an art gallery as being. It's gone through a lot of different iterations. The first, like, it was kind of in a room in a basement in a home. And then it grew to a really substantial space that had a large exhibition space, a large studio space, and a large kitchen. And so you had the making, the presenting, and then the socializing all happening within one space."

— Demi London

"The gallery doesn't have the capacity to run the way that people historically knew it did run, but we are still finding a way to try and make ourselves grounded in community. And part of the work of making yourself grounded in community is also knowing what you can offer and what you cannot offer. For us, what we can offer is space. We can offer, like artist support.” 

— Moroti George

From a Place of Care — with Asia Jong and Vitória Monteiro

What are the current conditions for emerging artists in Vancouver and how do we support one another?

Kathy spoke to two cultural workers, Asia Jong and Vitoria “veto” Monteiro. Asia Jong is an emerging curator, arts facilitator and who was one of the co-organizers of Ground Floor Art Centre, a collectively-run DIY gallery, studio and project space with a focus on supporting early emerging artists; and Vitória “veto” Monteiro is an emerging visual artist, arts facilitator, ​​and current Board President of grunt gallery and Acting Curator of Learning and Engagement at the Contemporary Art Gallery.

"I think the reason why Ground Floor was really important for early emerging artists was because it was a space that you could fail in. … And through that, I think it was really an opportunity to learn more about like, how to do any of it. How to put on a show, how to spackle a wall, how to curate paintings. Like, it was just an exercise in all of that. So I think that was, like, super important for us too, that it was a place that was not precious. It was a place that we could just like, do what we could, and try and have fun while we're doing it."

— Asia Jong

"I think what I hope to see, and am working towards myself in, like, the ways that I'm inviting people into this space. Like where possible, who am I inviting into the space? And what opportunities can I provide them? And payment can I provide them?  And thinking about ways that we can bring in these small things that we learn into other spaces. And, I also think, when you add things, those sort of accessible points, it also softens up a gallery. Like this isn't just a space for people who have great vision, and that are hearing, and that are of a certain class or whatever."

— Vitória Monteiro

Learning from Fireweed — with Sarah Common and Cait Hurley

Whilst it may initially appear to be outside the purview of the series, Hives for Humanity's work in community weaving, challenging the imposed infrastructure of nonprofits in BC, illuminates how arts and cultural organisations can transform and be transformed by their communities.

Julia is  joined by Hives for Humanity’s co-directors Sarah Common and Cait Hurley to talk about the history of the apicultural organization, its evolution from a supportive prevocational training program to a Community Supported Apiculture model, and the ways they are centering their relationship to the plants and soil in the Hastings Folk Garden in their work.

“The community cares for this garden in ways that I don't think we will ever fully understand. And there are essential resources that are needed in order to care for this garden. Fire, water, soil, air, seeds. And so we've tried to practise relating to those essential resources rather than trying to map and document and control every single flow of movement every way that the land is being used.” 

— Cait Hurley 

Throughout this series, we’ve learned so much about how arts and cultural workers in Vancouver approach policy challenges and questions of decolonisation through purposeful relationship building and interdisciplinary creation. And of course boosting the resilience and accessibility of the industry is a marathon and not a sprint, but we hope that the conversations and questions sparked in this series will only continue to run.

Thanks for tuning in! Below the Radar returns with our Spring podcasting season next Tuesday January 16th.

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