Mid-November in Vancouver can get pretty gloomy (the locals call it Raincouver at this time). The one thing I know I can count on to shine through the seemingly endless drizzly, grey days is Eastside Culture Crawl, a four-day public art exhibit, that takes place annually. During the Culture Crawl, artists open up their doors for the public to view or purchase their work. You can find anything from sculptures and paintings to furniture and prints. And there are plenty of places to go to, from small, independent studios to larger buildings housing multiple artists. In previous years attending this event, I visited one such mega-studio at 1000 Parker Street Studios, which is home to over 200 artists. This year I sought out the smaller ones, which proved to be just as rewarding.
I started out at Octopus Studios in Japantown. Here, you can find a diverse crowd of artists as well. I met Patrick Leach — a ceramic artist whose pottery incorporates traditional designs and motifs that reflect his Coast Salish background. I also admired the complexity of hand-carved jewelry made by Millie Hand (a.k.a Rat Betty), and smelled delicious coffee and smoked maple walnut donut candles courtesy of You + Me Candle Company. The highlight of my visit to Octopus Studios, however, was walking upstairs to see Nadia M’Seffar (a.k.a. Em’say). I first discovered Nadia’s work through her Instagram page and was delighted to find that her pieces were even more stunning to view in person. Nadia’s beautiful concrete planters are featured in this article’s cover image and I couldn’t resist buying one for myself.
Next, I travelled to 544 Main St in Vancouver’s Chinatown to find a small studio situated between a gift shop and a Chinese herbal market. Had it not been for the sandwich board outside advertising the Culture Crawl, I would have walked right past it. To get to the studio, you walk through a hallway and up a flight of dimly lit, industrial stairs. The space was narrow and obviously not the most glamourous, but that’s what made it special: it was a true working artists’ space and that’s what the Culture Crawl is all about, visiting artists’ studios rather than galleries. Everyone here was super friendly–one jewelry-maker even offered snacks and gave me a bag when she saw how full my hands were. I walked into one room that featured a striking black and gold texturized painting, but unfortunately, the artist was out at the time. I always ask permission to take photos from the artists beforehand, therefore I do not have a photo to share of that one but I was able to meet a different artist named E.R. Gott who created these interesting prints:
I liked them because they looked so simple at a first glance — like something I could create at home — but then you start to notice how complicated the design is; definitely not something you could paint with a roller and stencil like I imagined in the beginning.
Finally, I headed to ACME Studios where I enjoyed viewing paintings, prints, and pottery. I particularly enjoyed the large, life-like portraits made by Francis Tiffany and the dramatic, alluring photographs taken by Alex Waber. As I walked through the studio, I found my eye drawn to their work in particular. My favourite thing I saw while I was there, however, was Fergus — the studio’s dog!
Ultimately, what I love so much about Vancouver’s Culture Crawl is that it allows the public to peer into the network of artists working around the city. There are some studios that are located in places I would never think to look into. The Culture Crawl is magical in the sense that it opens you up to this hidden realm and once the four days are over, you go about your daily life until the next year when the crawl re-opens. Of course, there are ways to stay connected to artists you like; as I mentioned previously, I first discovered Em’Say through Instagram. At another culture crawl, I bought a glass pendant from an artist at the Terminal City Glass Co-Op and since then, we’ve become friends both on Instagram and in real life! You can find a lot of these artists’ work on Etsy or other online shops, but it’s not the same as meeting them in person and getting to have a conversation about their art. That’s the beauty of the Culture Crawl — you build a connection with the community.
All images used in this article taken by the author