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City's visual arts district disintegrating, one gallery at a time – Vancouver Sun



“It seems like there are more galleries closing than opening so the opportunities for artists to show their work are diminishing.” — Shane O’Brien of Gallery Jones

Shane O’Brien, co-owner of Gallery Jones located in The Flats.

Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

The gradual disappearance of Vancouver’s visual arts neighbourhood looks like it will pick up steam in 2020.

Once marketed as The Flats, it is an area east of Main from Industrial Avenue to the north to East 7th to the south. At its height, it grew into a mixture of about a dozen non-profit and private art galleries where people could easily walk from one gallery to another and see modern and contemporary works by local and international artists. In 2017, The Flats held its fifth annual summer block party.

But that’s all changed since then. First Catriona Jeffries, arguably one of the top art spaces in the country, closed in 2018 and opened a new location on East Cordova earlier this year. Then Winsor Gallery, after 16 years in three different locations, closed its space in the neighbourhood.

Galleries that remain include private ones such as Elan Fine Art and Macaulay & Co Fine Art and non-profits such as grunt and Burrard Arts Foundation.

By next year, two other top galleries will have to move to make way for the new Broadway Subway extension. A third may also have to move to a new location before the end of 2020.


Gallery Jones has a year to go on its lease at 1-258 East 1st. But with a station on the new subway extension planned by the new Emily Carr University of Art & Design, rents in the area are increasing by as much as 50 to 75 per cent, said Shane O’Brien, co-owner and director.

“That’s not sustainable for our business,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen.

“It seems like there are more galleries closing than opening so the opportunities for artists to show their work are diminishing.”

The Equinox Gallery.

Francis Georgian /


The ministry of transportation and highways said construction on the Broadway Subway is expected to start in the fall of 2020. That means demolishing 525 Great Northern Way, the industrial building where Equinox Gallery and Monte Clark Gallery, two of the cities top art galleries, are located.

Andy Sylvester, owner of Equinox Gallery. said he and his agent are looking every day for a new location.

“I’ve looked at, I don’t know, 50 buildings. There is a significant and complicated problem in how art galleries function in respect to legislation at city hall and the taxes and the rent. It’s a very different world for us now compared to when we moved here.”

Equinox, one of the city’s oldest art galleries, was founded in 1972 by Elizabeth Nichol. Equinox moved from South Granville to The Flats in 2012.

Andy Sylvester the owner of Equinox Gallery.

Francis Georgian /


At 14,000 sq. ft, Equinox has more floor space than any other private art gallery in Vancouver. Sylvester realizes he’s not going to find anything that size at a price he can afford. But he can’t even find anything half that size.

One of the biggest problems he’s facing is the city’s policy of taxing a building on its “highest and best use” which is determined by B.C. Assessment based on zoning and market evidence. If a one story building, for example, is on a site zoned for a 20-storey condo tower, the smaller building can be taxed at the rate of the bigger building.

He found one potential new home but taxes of $147,000 a year made the site uneconomic.

Sylvester said he remembers being inspired the first time he walked into 525 Great Northern Way, the former paint and mechanical shop for Finning International.

“The floor was painted black and it was a rough looking space,” he said. “You could envision possibilities that would inspire people. That’s what I still want.”


Monte Clark, who has owned and operated Monte Clark Gallery for almost 30 years, said while he’s actively looking for a new gallery, he would prefer to put all that energy into promoting his artists.

Art galleries showing challenging contemporary art like his are in a grey area when it comes to zoning.

“Are we retail or are we a warehouse?” Clark asked.

Yes, he said, his business is retail because people come into the gallery to buy art. But a lot of the work his gallery does is with collectors by email and phone calls from people who may come to the gallery itself to see a work.

His gallery has also become a storage space for art works because artists can no longer afford large studios where they once were able to keep their work. It’s also a workplace where art works are framed and shipped to collectors — often on approval.

“We created our own art zone,” he said about The Flats.

“Now it is about to be completely dismantled. You’d think someone at the city would meet with us and say: ‘OK you guys, what can we do?’”

O’Brien of Gallery Jones said he’s “stubbornly holding onto the idea” that galleries and visual artists make valuable contributions to a city.

”I want to make it so that artists can have viable careers where they’re not living below the poverty line, don’t have to move to Vancouver Island or Saskatoon,” he said.

“But that’s becoming increasing difficult day by day.”


Don MacMillan, the owner of South Main Gallery, located on the southern edge of The Flats, said the closure of his gallery at the end of September had nothing to do with the high cost of real estate.

That’s because he owned his ground floor unit at East 6h and Main. His reasons were personal.

When his mother and a few of his friends died, the arrival of his 68th birthday made him think of his own mortality even though he was having “the most fun” he’d ever had in his life putting on exhibitions and working with artists.

“The last year was one of the best financially but not enough to hire a few more people,” MacMillan said.

“Being in business for years, you know what it would take to get it there. I don’t have the same push and energy to do that any longer.”

One thing he said was missing in Vancouver is an association of art galleries. He recognizes that art galleries are protective of their client lists but it might help to deal with shared issues by presenting a united front.

At the end of June, Kimoto Gallery on West 6th just west of Granville closed after more than 70 exhibitions in six years.

Construction of an 11-storey building across the street would have led to a drastic reduction in walk-in business Monday to Friday, said gallerist Katsumi Kimoto.

“It is a tough business and with higher rents and taxes it’s become increasingly more difficult to stay in the established art gallery areas,” he said in an email.


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The chaotic joy of Art Fight – The Verge



In the summer of 2017, I was stuck between high school and college and stuck between two versions of myself. There was the high school version of me, someone with a laser focus on traditional academic success, and the college version of myself, a mystery that burst with the potential to do and create outside of the box that I had formed around myself.

It started with a simple DM — something along the lines of “this seems fun; you should join it also!” When I clicked the link, I saw a dizzying array of character designs laid out in tidy rows, filling the homepage of the site. It was overwhelming, not just because so many people had joined this site but also because they had shared so many stories and characters. The characters were technicolor and sparkling, with lengthy backstories included with their pictures. There was so much passion, and I was being invited to join them.

Art Fight is a fairly simple concept. For the month of July, artists register on the site and are divided into teams. Once registered and sorted, they upload examples of their art along with personal characters and stories of their own that they would be interested in other people drawing. Then, the games begin.

You score points in Art Fight by drawing another team’s requests, called an “attack” in the lingo of the game. The more complex the request, the higher the score, and at the end of the month, the team with the most points gets a special badge on the site showing they’ve won. There’s no reward beyond the badge, and nobody is too strict about the teams. Individuals can change teams multiple times over the course of the month. The real incentive isn’t winning but, rather, drawing for others and being drawn in turn.

I was an amateur artist at the time and had spent very little time creating a social media profile and promoting my art. But even then, it was exciting to know I could draw for others and know they would be excited to draw back. Something about this space was welcoming to people of all skill levels and meant that I wasn’t lost in the digital noise.

In the following years, the time that I spent on Art Fight waxed and waned based on the business of my own summers. But each year, I made sure to draw at least one piece for it, taking the lovingly rendered illustration that another artist had made of their character and granting it life in my own art style. It remained a constant, this act of creating for someone else that I likely did not know.

The other constant was the range of other artists that used the platform. Some were students or hobby artists, drawing in the free time that they had on weekends or after work. Others were professional artists, pulling together attacks as breaks from their own work. What remained true was the range of people that Art Fight encompassed, with individuals from almost any walk of life with an interest in character design and storytelling coming together to share their creations.

Back in the summer of 2017, I hadn’t realized quite how special that was. Wedged in among my career aspirations and life goals, my art often feels pushed to the background, something that can’t be properly pursued unless it has a “purpose” (usually involving money). Having a space where that creation is encouraged and given a community, for any skill level and with few caveats, still feels exhilarating.

For the artists I know, sharing online can be a mixed blessing. Platforms offer reach but they can feel actively hostile, putting artists at the whims of algorithms and mainstream attention. There are few platforms actively devoted to art and even fewer constructed to make artists feel more comfortable. The result can feel alienating, forcing creators to post constantly to stay relevant rather than follow their own inspiration.

Art Fight, for me, is a balm to that. Even for a hobbyist artist like me, there is something exciting about individuals making art for each other without the caveats of platforms or the frantic scramble to be seen. It is a challenge that asks only for what you want to give to it rather than what the platform wants. For that reason, the month of July is a sanctuary — a place to create on my terms with the knowledge that it will still be seen by others and maybe be special to some of them.

Camille Butera is a Master of Science student at Oxford University and a recent graduate of Smith College. Outside of that, you can find her drawing and catching up on TV shows about five years after everyone else.

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Downtown gateway art project gets initial green light –



Council has given initial approval for the Collingwood Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) to proceed in a public art process for a gateway feature for the downtown.

During Monday’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, council voted in favour of proceeding with a gateway feature, with a focus on the feature being an integrated public art installation anchoring the downtown core.

“Art is in the beholder. We follow a process. Some may disagree with the process. We’re voting on a process today, not a piece of art,” said Hull. “When it’s installed, and people don’t like it – you voted for the process.”

Based on a plan proposed and approved by the BIA board, the process for the public art gateway feature would follow the town’s public art policy, and would begin with planning by an ad-hoc committee to come up with a budget and theme with an invitation to the community to participate on the committee.

During Monday’s meeting, BIA general manager Sue Nicholson noted that the theme is currently under discussion.

“Working through the public process, I think the theme is ‘What has built this downtown,’” said Nicholson. “The shipbuilding, the rail that basically created this community. These themes will help shape what this piece of art looks like.”

Later, there would be a call to artists, a selection process with interviews, and, ultimately, the installation of the piece. A public art working group selected for the project would include town staff, BIA, community members, and representatives from the Collingwood Museum, the historical society, and the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts.

The BIA’s goal is to move quickly through the process to have a final design and artist contracted by the end of January 2023.

The project would be funded by a $215,000 federal grant which must be used for beautification of the downtown before March 31, 2023. If not used by that date, the BIA would lose the federal funding.

Coun. Deb Doherty said she was in support of the recommendation.

“I applaud the BIA board for having taken a very negative assessment of their original proposal and gone back to the drawing board and come back with a very creative approach that I hope will be a win-win for the town, residents and the BIA,” said Doherty.

The original proposed archway project was presented to council in early March 2022. The design showed two tall poles with a black metal archway spanning Hurontario Street at the intersection with First Street/Huron Street. On the arch were white letters reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood,” on the other. The idea, according to the BIA, was to help people find the downtown and encourage them to turn onto Hurontario Street.

The proposal was immediately and vehemently rejected by public opinion. Letters to decried it as an eyesore and the BIA received dozens of emails and submissions opposing the design and concept of an archway in the downtown.

A public survey put out by the town in April received nearly twice as many responses as the 2022 town budget survey with 727 responses to the archway survey and 529 of them (72.8 per cent) against an archway altogether.

Town council was also bombarded with opposition from residents culminating to a meeting on May 30 when Mayor Keith Hull (then acting mayor) said he was surprised by the ferocity of the response to the archway.

At the May 30 meeting, council told the BIA and town staff to go back to the drawing board to find a different way to spend the $215,000 federal grant.

Nicholson’s proposal to use the town’s Public Art Policy to commission a gateway feature that is not an arch is in response to council’s May order.

On Monday, not all councillors were in favour of the proposal.

“I feel this is contrary to our sign bylaw. I feel it is contrary to our heritage conservation district. It’s almost as if this is a sign project in the guise of art,” said Coun. Chris Carrier. “I think art is art – let art be the anchor as opposed to wrapping it in the envelope of signage.”

“This is almost like another kick at the can we had before,” he added. “I think the public rejected it not because they were misunderstanding the finances, but because they didn’t want an arch.”

The committee voted 6-1 in favour of proceeding with the public art process, with Carrier opposed. Coun. Bob Madigan declared a conflict on the matter and didn’t participate in discussions as he is a BIA member.

The decision will need to be ratified at the next meeting of council before going into effect.

With files from Erika Engel.

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How this local arts group is making art accessible in Calgary –



In a pursuit to build a recreational facility for the arts, The Alcove has been encouraging the community to pitch in through a series of summer workshops and pop-ups. (Shay Blenkin/Fern and Pine Studios)

The corner of 8th ave and 1st street bustled with colour, music and dancing last week at The Alcove’s Hip-Hop Showcase, one of their several pop-up events this summer. 

“Hip-hop really brings people from different ethnicities, different races together, in ways that other spaces don’t,” said MC GoodMedicine who feels these spaces allow people to be authentic and tell their story.

These pop-ups by The Alcove Centre for Arts are an attempt to showcase how a physical recreational facility for the arts could benefit the community in many ways. This non-profit group is dedicated to making art more accessible by providing workshops and platforms to support local artists. 

“We have so many hidden gems here, and these workshops are helping pass down the knowledge to the youth,” said Ryan De Guzman a.k.a Rubix, a local rapper. 

“I believe Calgary’s still young, kind of like in its pre-teens…but we are growing and have the potential to be like Montreal,” Guzman said as he reflected on the arts scene and its future in the city.

The Alcove workshop attendees visited the CBC booth to create some acrylic art with CBC stencils. (Ishita Singla/CBC)

The first half of the showcase was a spray paint and street art workshop led by Anthony Russell who provided guidance on colour theory, spray can control, letter structure and style. After the formal instruction, the space welcomed a collaborative community mural, facilitated by a graffiti trio, Spreason. Attendees and community members had the opportunity to spray paint their own name tags to this four by eight foot mural. 

CBC Calgary was on location with canvases, custom CBC stencils and paint supplies, for aspiring and professional artists to express themselves. While some captured yellow and orange gradients of a sunrise, others were inspired by bright patterns, and even monochrome palettes. 

In collaboration with ANTYX and TRIBE Artist Society, The Alcove opened up the floor to an open jam, or a “cypher.” DJ Playtime spun some tunes for rappers and dancers to come and vibe together.

“Cyphers welcome hip-hop artists to come together, practice and perform. This is an opportunity for strangers to mingle and develop friendships through arts and music,” as The Alcove explained. (Shay Blenkin/ Fern and Pine Studios)

The showcase was aimed to be “for the community, from the community and by the community.” The workshops were made possible in partnership with the Calgary Downtown Association and the venue was a collaborative effort by University of Calgary’s faculties of Social Work and School of Creative and Performing Arts

The Alcove is hosting a multicultural themed arts showcase on August 27 and once again, CBC Calgary will be on-site to creatively stimulate conversations about art, community and more.

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