Elemental Designs

Sandra Bilawich


The Province


Three-day event is the perfect place to buy gifts that mean something
Eastside Culture Crawl
Where: Studios in area bounded by Main St., E. 1st, Terminal Ave., Commercial Dr. and Powell
When: Today, 5-10 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tickets: $2 buys a button to get on the shuttle bus to the sites


Culture Crawl organizer Valerie Arntzen (left) with artists Gailan Ngan, Dustin Doerntlein, Sandra Bilawich and Jordan Bent
Photograph by : Nick Procaylo, The Province

Stuart Derdeyn, The Province
Published: Friday, November 24, 2006

Ten years ago, artists living in the residential/industrial communities of Strathcona, lower Grandview/Hastings and Main Street took a look around and went: "Wow! There's a lot of us 'round here. Let's let the city know about it." The Eastside Culture Crawl was born.

From humble beginnings, the open-studio tour has become the biggest single visual-arts festival in Western Canada, drawing in excess of 10,000 people over three days.

That's a lot of looky-loos to organize, so in 2003 the non-profit Eastside Culture Crawl Society was formed. Holding true to the d-i-y ethos of the event founders, the 10-member board features nine of the participating artists. For the past eight years, Valerie Arntzen has been the executive director. "It's amazing," she says. "We have 265 artists in 43 buildings. When I took over we had 150 artists in 14 units. I never imagined it would grow to this scope and be able to include both established and emerging artists."

Economics drew creative types to the area. Arntzen admits many are "hanging on by their fingernails."

"Quite a few of us were fortunate enough to have bought years ago and held onto our studio spaces. Somehow the city is going to have to embrace the artists and help them out. I just don't know how that's going to happen. But the community is certainly so supportive of what we do."

Indeed. The kind of community involvement the Culture Crawl generates should be the envy of all other 'hoods. The Strathcona and Britannia community centres serve as information booth hosts and outreach program locations while the Russian and Ukrainian community halls provide ethnic meals for hungry crawlers.

Many local residents and youth volunteer to wear yellow "Eastside Culture Crawl Ask Me" buttons and cruise the streets to answer questions and give directions.

Of course, the studios are there all year round, too. If you see something you like or meet an artist whose work, well, works, be sure to schedule a personal appointment.

"I really enjoy having people coming around my studio because I work there on my own full-time and it can get a bit lonely at times," says Potter Gailan Ngan (www.gailanngan.com). "When people come to the studio they get to visually see what it's about and you don't have to explain the little details of what you do to them anymore.

"It's an artists' area for obvious reasons, because they're always looking for industrial/commercial spaces with the right zoning close to the city centre and the high density that brings."

To give back to the eastside, the Crawl sponsors at-risk youth and mentally challenged artists groups at Victory House, Kettle Society, Bantleman Court and Thistle Group.

Donations are graciously accepted and you can score some amazing finds from the participating artists. But Arntzen stresses this is also a celebration of exhibits.

"We're supportive of all mediums, not all of this is about sales. For instance, we've got Mad Dog at Alley Gallery (713 E. Pender) who's taken eight months to do a two- room installation that transforms the space into two different worlds. We've also got more music, film and dancing this year down at the ARC. Something for everybody." That said, bring a few cloth shopping bags with towels for wrapping things you aren't planning to buy, but might.

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