By Karina Espinosa
VANCOVUER – Usually, viewers can only see the work that comes out of an artist’s studio. Stripped of their context, these objects can seem nebulous and inaccessible to the casual onlooker. But the Eastside Culture Crawl opens up those intimate workspaces and invites people to take a look inside.
The Eastside Culture Crawl is an annual, four-day visual arts festival that aims to encourage active engagement with artists and their work in East Vancouver. Now in its 22nd year, the Crawl is expected to draw 35,000 art buffs, patrons, and novices to experience the variety of arts that the community has to offer. Esther Rausenberg, this year’s Executive Director and one of the founders of the Crawl, ruminates on the progress that the Crawl has made since it first launched.
“The growth has been pretty exceptional, both in terms of artists participating and public attendance,” she says. “But most of all I’m always amazed and impressed with the different directions these artists are going.”
Rausenberg is quick to note that a majority of the art presented for this edition is brand new work from the artists. The artists are constantly innovating, which is what makes the Crawl worth visiting each year. She adds: “We’ve included a lot of workshops and demonstrations to further entice the public to get a better understanding of how the art is created, because that’s what this is about – the exploration and curiosity of the artist’s process.”
But there is a darker undercurrent to this year’s celebration. Like many denizens in this increasingly high-priced city, artists have fallen victim to rapid gentrification and struggle to preserve their studio spaces. One of the Crawl’s founding buildings, the historic Glass Onion, is set for redevelopment in December.
“Pretty much all of the artists have been evicted from there. It’s sad, because for this Culture Crawl, there’s only one artist [from that studio],” says Rausenberg. “We’ve lost one of our founding buildings that had anywhere from 14-20 artists at a time. What it’s replaced with, even if there’s an opportunity for artistic production, will certainly not be affordable.”
An established photo-based artist herself, Rausenberg is familiar with the necessity of art in people’s lives, and she fondly recalls instances from past Crawls when viewers responded emotionally to the artwork (“Art really does connect with parts of you that sometimes you’re not aware of”). For Rausenberg, those honest connections make the Eastside community so special. “In true East End fashion, I think that there’s no B.S.,” she laughs. “There’s no pretense. It’s that integrity and honesty and that sense of community that draws people to the area and to the Culture Crawl.”
The Culture Crawl allows artists to share their tools, methods and backstories that are often obscured from public view. Unlike a gallery or a museum, walking into an artist’s studio reveals something personal about the artistic process. Having that first-hand knowledge makes it possible for viewers to perceive the work in a different way.
“When you’re opening up your own space, you’re really exposing yourself and saying to the public, ‘Here’s who I am and here’s what I do.’ People really respond to that level of vulnerability – I think that they need and want that,” Rausenberg affirms. “In a way, it’s what they’re looking for and that’s why they keep connecting to this event time and time again.”
The Eastside Culture Crawl will run from November 14-18.