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Vancouver’s art scene is in arrested development

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“So how does Vancouver’s art scene compare to Montreal’s?” I’m several drinks deep when I ask this of Malinka, an artist visiting town from Montreal. “I’m not sure,” she muses. “There’s some really cool stuff here. But it still just feels like a teenager, y’know?”

I do know, and it’s vindicating to hear someone else say it.

I moved to Vancouver in June 2020, probably the worst time to discover the city’s cultural scene. But when the city started to cautiously open up, I attended every artsy event I could, eager to discover what Vancouver had to offer.

Vancouver’s creative culture is incredible. It’s weird, it’s innovative, it’s vibrant. As a theatre kid who grew up south of London then moved to Berlin, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen a lot of art. But in Vancouver there are people making things in ways I have never seen before.

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Too bad the city won’t let them get anywhere.

There always seems to be new events, new galleries, new parties, but many just burn out—and those that have survived fought tirelessly to do so. I can see why Malinka’s impression was that Vancouver is stuck in a state of arrested development, because with the challenges the creative scene faces, it’s hard for anything to grow up.

The problem seems to primarily be that of space, which, of course, is also a question of money. Take open mics, for example. Comedy, poetry, music, performance art—anything goes at an open mic event. They are veritable breeding grounds of talent, essential to the development of any city’s creative scene.

Vancouver doesn’t have any. Or rather, it doesn’t have many. Those that exist are pretty much restricted to comedy (especially now that Cafe Deux Soleils has closed its doors, its popular spoken word open mic shuttered along with it), and they aren’t well attended.

This is something that surprised comedian and writer Sasha Mark when he came here from Winnipeg—a city with a thriving open mic scene.

“In all the open mics I’ve done in Vancouver there have been three or four people in the audience, It’s a very, very big difference,” they say.

So, why don’t open mics exist in Vancouver? The issue, once again, is space plus money. These events aren’t particularly lucrative, usually hosted by venues that don’t charge for use of the space. It’s a mutually beneficial situation, as open mics bring in bar sales to support venues on slow weekday evenings.

At least, that’s the case in most cities. The open mic scene is what I loved most about Berlin, and it’s how Mark got his start in Winnipeg. But Mark says that Vancouver’s already small open mic scene has shrunk even more. “We lost a lot of open mic spaces during the pandemic. Venues either shut down or they said, ‘We’re struggling, we need to charge for this now.’”

For a creative scene to develop and thrive, there needs to be space for people to share their art. And this isn’t just a problem of event venues: Vancouver also has many restrictions on how and where you can creatively express yourself.

Back in Berlin, one of my favourite places to go was Mauerpark, a park in the Prenzlauer Berg district. Every weekend this nondescript expanse of scrub would overflow with musicians, performers, and other artists, all creating art loudly and joyfully, just for the hell of it.

Such a park does not, and cannot, exist in Vancouver. To play music in a public space, you don’t just need a permit, you must also pay fee for it: an annual permit is $135.44 before tax. Groups of more than three performers are also banned. Paying fees is only viable for buskers—you can’t just create music for free, as the denizens of Berlin’s Mauerpark do. There are some exceptions to the permits, such as sidewalks beside certain SkyTrain stations, but these areas aren’t ideal for recreation. While Berlin’s city ordinances allow performances in designated recreation spaces without needing a permit or fee, Vancouver’s restrictions hardly encourage such free expression.

And that’s because Vancouver views art not as a social need but a profit venture. You cannot create art for the sake of itself—your art is your business, making money the ultimate outcome. And any effort to sell your art will also come at a price.

Marcus James Wild, who has been creating art in Vancouver since 1998, bemoans the cost of booths at markets like Car Free Day ($120) and the Khatsahlano Street Party ($250).

“It’s pricing out the people they’re pretending are part of the community, and all they’re getting are the Telus booths,” he says. Vancouver’s artists are struggling to survive in the margins. Sure, there are grants to be applied for, but who would do that for a simple open mic night? Who would pay a fee just to gather with some pals and play music on a sunny afternoon in the park? It’s no surprise that Vancouver’s art scene feels adolescent, if the cost of growth is so high.

And what’s really sad about this is that Vancouver is young. Comparatively, its lifespan as a major city has been short. The city itself is still developing—but as vacant lots are eaten up by high-rises for high-earners, artists are being left out in the cold.

For art to develop, and thrive, it needs space to breathe. Vancouver needs to loosen the reins, before they become a noose.

 

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Art therapy space gutted in 'terrible' Montreal heritage building fire – Montreal Gazette

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Les Impatients, which uses art to help people with mental health problems, lost its downtown workshop space, offices and gallery.

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A fire that swept through a 19th-century former monastery in downtown Montreal last week gutted the fourth-floor space of Les Impatients and has left participants in shock.

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The blaze broke out late Thursday afternoon at the Monastére du Bon-Pasteur building and quickly became a five-alarm fire requiring the intervention of 150 firefighters. It took until Saturday to bring the fire under control.

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The mission of Les Impatients, established in 1992, is to help people with mental health problems through the vehicle of artistic expression. The Monastère du Bon-Pasteur building, a multi-purpose building on Sherbrooke St. E., had been home to Les Impatients since 1999.

“A lot of people are in shock,” Frédéric Palardy said of participants. “It’s almost like a home for them. Some come twice a week.”

They participate in art workshops and, as well, some are in music and dance workshops and a choir — all organized by Les Impatients.

“The main thing is that everyone is safe and no one was hurt,” Palardy said. “My thoughts are for our neighbours.”

The multi-purpose building housed a seniors’ residence and a housing co-operative, Heritage Montreal, a daycare centre, condos and a chapel that served as a concert hall.

“I know a lot of people in the residence and the co-op,” he said.

But the fire “is terrible for us, too.”

Les Impatients was on the top floor and among the building’s most severely affected by the blaze, said Palardy. Although it is not yet known for sure, the fire is believed to have started in the roof.

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The space the organization occupied included its downtown workshop space, offices, gallery space and a boutique. Also lost in the fire were the organization’s archives, its musical instruments and about 10 per cent of its artworks.

With about 30,000 works, Les Impatients has what is believed to be North America’s largest collection of outsider art, Palardy said. The term describes art that has a naïve quality and was often produced by people without formal training as artists.

Les Impatients had insurance, but it was primarily for theft, Palardy said.

“We have to start from scratch,” he said, adding that the organization is working on an appeal.

Meanwhile, Palardy said the organization has received countless emails and messages of support, including a text Sunday from deputy health minister Lionel Carmant and messages from representatives of the City of Montreal’s culture department.

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“A part of the soul of Les Impatients has gone up in smoke,” the organization said in a communiqué. “The emotion and the sadness are vivid but the priority for the organization is to continue its mission, through this chaos, to serve its community well.”

Two women work on paintings at a long table
Jocelyne Potvin (left) and Johanne Marino work on new pieces at Les Impatients on Jan. 29, 2009. Photo by JOHN KENNEY /The Gazette

An interim location for Les Impatients administrative offices has been found, Palardy said Sunday, but the activities of the downtown section, which were held in the former monastery building, are suspended for now. That location normally serves about 130 people five days and three evenings every week through its workshops and the organization is already at work to find a new location, Palardy said.

The former monastery location is the largest and most well-established of Les Impatients’ 25 locations elsewhere in Montreal and across Quebec which, together, serve more than 900 people. The other locations will continue to function, he said.

The Parle-moi d’Amour event, the biggest fundraiser of the year for Les Impatients, is set for September. Sadly, Palardy said, some of the works that were to be included were lost in the fire.

  1. Firefighters battle a blaze at the former Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in Montreal on May 26, 2023.

    Firefighters stamp out blaze in former monastery 42 hours after it ignited

  2. Admirer takes in the artwork up for auction at the 17th annual Parle-moi d'Amour exhibition and auction being held at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur on Shebrooke St. E. until March 18.

    Art and mind connect at ‘Parle-moi d’Amour’ auction

  3. Works by Les Impatients, a collective of artists who live with mental-health issues, are on display at the Wellington Centre in Verdun until May 3.

    Les Impatients’ exhibit shows the healing power of art

sschwartz@postmedia.com

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Remembering a pioneer of local Indigenous art – Sault Ste. Marie News – SooToday

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From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

John Laford was a prominent Sault Ste. Marie artist, who was born in 1955 on an Indigenous reserve in the West Bay area of Manitoulin Island.

Leaving his home at the age of 15, he eventually made his way to Sault Ste. Marie by his early 20s.

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He felt that he had been painting for as long as he could remember. He always enjoyed art, design and doodling after he finished school but with no formal training, he was largely self-taught.

Laford travelled throughout Europe, Canada and the United States, studying and learning from various artists along the way.

“I would only paint to get enough money to continue along the way,” he said.

By 1969, Laford began painting full-time. In 1977, at the age of 22, he had his work exhibited at the Centennial Room at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. He used his work to show his Ojibway legends and spiritual beliefs. His spiritual beliefs and Ojibway legends were central not just to his artistic career but to his personal life as well.

Laford went on to be a vocal critic of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).

As a child, he played with a young boy who lived next to him. In a 1978 Sault Star article he explained, it was not until he was 12 that he realized that the boy was his older brother.

When he was one year old, his father died. His mother took his four sisters and two brothers and moved back to her reserve. She did not receive any financial assistance to care for her children and CAS took over.

“CAS saw my mother had too many kids and just took them away,” Laford said. “To me, it seemed they just wanted to scatter the family. I wasn’t adopted into a native family and the Children’s Aid paid for my care but no one ever bothered to tell me about my real parents and brothers and sisters.”

The foster family cared for four of them for a while which he described as very strict but fairly good people which he says helped him.

At the age of 15, he ran away from home with his older brother and travelled to Toronto in an attempt to find their mother.

“I quit school. Things weren’t too good on the reserve. I was drinking a lot,” he said.

When they arrived in Toronto it took them a week to find their mother. He spent three years with her getting to know her and the rest of his family.

“What I’m saying is my opinion, just my own ideas about the things I went through with Children’s Aid. I would have liked to have grown up with my mother, stayed with my real mother, but it didn’t happen that way. You could look at it (CAS) as destroying Indian families but they’re trying to do something good,” he said near the end of the Sault Star article.

Laford and two other Indigenous artists Cecil Youngfox and Peter Migwans formed a group called “Artists of the Northern Sun.” They hoped it would “form the nucleus of the Indian community in Sault Ste. Marie.” 

The three artists created the group around 1977 when Laford moved to Sault Ste. Marie. They planned on organizing events that would bring Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians together. The three wanted to create a higher profile and take on a leadership role in the community.

By 1980 Laford had become a well-established artist in his own right whose work was included in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. His work had been exhibited in Hamilton, Toronto, and Montreal and in 1980 his work was part of the Manitoulin Island artist’s show at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). In 1990 his work was once again featured in Sault Ste. Marie at the Art Gallery of Algoma.

Laford passed away in 2021 at the age of 67. He left a lasting mark and legacy in the

Indigenous community. He used his spirituality and culture’s legends to create works of art that are enjoyed and viewed by Canadians and the world alike.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provide SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more “Remember This?” columns here.

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Indigenous art market comes to downtown Kitchener – CTV News Kitchener

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A celebration of Indigenous culture is in downtown Kitchener for the weekend.

The “I Am Kitchener: Indigenous Art Market” has taken over the Gaukel block, with everything from clothes, to art, to beadwork.

The two-day event is a showcase for artists across Southwestern Ontario, but also a welcoming to the wider community.

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“I think it’s really important for folks in the region to really come out and support events like this,” said co-organizers Maddie Resmer. “It’s a huge step forwards. What it means to connect with Indigenous community members in the region, in Kitchener, and for folks in the area to get to know some of the Indigenous artists that live here and are close to these territories, that’s how we celebrate ourselves, right?

“We highlight the positive and brilliant people who come from our culture.”

The Indigenous art market wraps up Sunday.

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