The Art of Crawling

While crawling through East Van harkens to an entirely different social experience, the Eastside Culture Crawl is a great way to explore Vancouver’s artistic centre.

This weekend local artists situated between Main, First, Victoria and the waterfront will open their doors to the public, allowing us a rare glimpse into their creative spaces.

What began in 1997 with a mere 3 sites is now a complex grid of 70 buildings housing over 390 artists. No matter where you end up you’re sure to find something of interest, but the sheer volume of offerings can overwhelm.

So take it from me, a relatively inexperienced Crawler who writes for a random online publication that has nothing to do with art, and follow these guidelines:

1) Bundle up

 You may have missed this but, baby, it’s cold outside. While you don’t exactly have to cross the open tundra between Culture Crawl sites, you can expect to spend some time on the road. The one outside. That’s covered in snow.

Wear comfy shoes, throw on the parka you only use twice a year, and embrace this dose of winter wonderland we’ve been served. It’ll make you appreciate the (indoor, heated) art spaces you visit all the more.

2) Get whimsical

This isn’t a film or music festival: there’s no set schedule or hot shows to line up for. Download the map from the website or pick up a Georgia Straight on Thursday morning, browse for what appeals to you, eschew function in favor of form, and wander widely.

That being said…

3) Enter the ARC

 Some Crawlers like to get off the beaten track, explore out-of-the-way galleries, and really connect with little-known pockets of Vancouver artistry.

I, on the other hand, am lazy. In the last two years, I have maximized my Crawl time with trips to three particular buildings: the ARC (1701 Powell St.); the Mergatroid (975 Vernon Dr.), and Parker Street Studios (1000 Parker St.). Each building houses 40-100 artists and a diverse cross-section of styles and mediums. You’ll find everything from furniture makers, to painters, to industrial metal workers.

The ARC studios have the added draw of being live/work spaces. Here, you get a peek at the artists’ living arrangements, which are often as interesting as what they create. It’s like the thrill of looking in someone’s medicine cabinet, only that cabinet is a studio apartment. Full of art.

4) Make it your own

 I’m not just talking about buying an incredible piece of artwork that you completely connect with; I’m also being clever.

The Culture Crawl is a formal event, run and managed by a small core staff and a host of volunteers. But it’s also an invitation to experiment with creativity in unexpected ways.

The Stag Gallery, for instance, is hosting an unaffiliated free art show (see their Free Art Manifesto), during which visitors can take anything that strikes their fancy right off the gallery walls. There’s no cost and no catch, but you are encouraged to bring your own piece to leave in place of what’s taken.

Accordingly, I’ll be attending a Make Free Art party, where I’ll sit around a cozy kitchen table with friends and get in touch with my decoupaging, sketching, finger-painting inner self.

I’ll also be attending a (completely unsanctioned) Crawl party with the theme of “Late-1800s Parisian Debauchery”, where canvas will line the walls, can-can dancer costumes will be de rigueur, and shots of absinthe will make the rounds.

The Culture Crawl isn’t just about appreciating the work of some of Vancouver’s most celebrated artists. It’s also about bringing art – in all its iterations – into your life.

5) Get chatty

 Talk to the artists. They’ve been gracious enough to open their work spaces (and, in some cases, their homes) to you, so if you see something intriguing, ask about it.

Art is often a highly solitary undertaking, and a lot of thought and introspection goes into its production. Each piece has a story to tell, and over the weekend you have the opportunity to hear that story first-hand. Seize it!

6) Meet, greet, count

Volunteering is a great way to infiltrate a new community (witness my slow and quietly hostile Gumboot takeover) and experience the best of what it has to offer.  This year the Eastside Culture Crawl is attempting to count the number of people it actually draws, in an effort to improve the event and plan for the future. This will, of course, require droves of volunteers. So sign up for a two- hour shift, meet the people who make this event a reality, have an interactive Crawl experience, and count attendees like heads of cattle. Everybody wins!

7) Be a good neighbour

 During Echo Chamber, a pre-Crawl performance art event, Balkan-brass band Okestar Slivoviva threatened to go out into the streets, cause a ruckus, and generally annoy the neighbors.

To which one audience member responded, “We are the neighbors.”

The Eastside Culture Crawl has been a 14-year fixture in Vancouver precisely for that reason: it’s no imposition on the local community, because it is the local community. The event is an indication of what can happen to a neighborhood when creativity is combined with open doors. So escape the cold and head on inside.