By Yasmine Shemesh
VANCOUVER — In the early ’90s, a group of East Vancouver artists decided to share their work and creative processes with the community. The main reason for the open house, which ran out of Paneficio Studios, was to fundraise for political movements close to home — supporting friends who’d been arrested protesting Clayoquot Sound, raising money to help a neighbour whose house burnt down, rallying for friends suffering from AIDS. “We started out having very much of a cause aspect to it,” says visual artist and muralist Richard Tetrault. “And then, of course, it also became an exhibition of our work and a chance to, you know, sell some work and meet people and all that. The two of them worked in tandem quite nicely.”
With each passing year, more studios become involved. The small event quickly grew into a myriad of open houses coinciding their dates on the same weekend in November and, soon, it was attracting thousands of people. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Eastside Culture Crawl continues to facilitate a deep connection between the community and the creativity that thrives within it.
A few special events help celebrate the Crawl’s milestone. A discussion series, Talking Art, has eight artists speaking about what informs their work. There is also an exhibition, As The Crow Flies, which includes 70 artists who have been part of the Crawl for the last two decades. Arranged salon-style with the pieces mounted closely together, the exhibition is held at a variety of venues from The Cultch to The Arts Factory.
Tetrault will have two paintings on display in As The Crow Flies. The images, done with acrylic and graphite, are of crows — frequent subjects in his work (he even segued them into the Crawl’s official logo, which he came up with).
“In some ways, they’re personality stand-ins for my protagonists in my paintings in the Downtown Eastside,” he explains, referencing his oft on-site location. “In other words, they kind of take the place, sometimes, of my human figures. They’re a presence that’s always there and that’s very vacillating between dark and light.”
He continues, “Crows and ravens were here long before the city was, but now that the city is here, they adapt to it. So, their kind of contemporary landscape is alleyways as opposed to old growth forests. And I just find that really interesting. One of the birds that have persisted to make their livelihood in the urban landscape.”
And like the crows that watch over the community from treetops and telephone wires, the Eastside Culture Crawl is, too, something deeply imbedded in East Vancouver’s identity.
Eastside Culture Crawl runs from November 17 – 23. For a map of participating studios, visit culturecrawl.ca.arts festivals, BC, British Columbia, Eastside Culture Crawl, Richard Tetrault