COVER

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Janet Smith Cover photo by Shi­mon Karmel Wall piece by Lo­gan Gil­day, OGA De­sign; sound fur­ni­ture by Ben­jamin Mclaugh­lin

At the East­side Cul­ture Crawl, artists are find­ing in­no­va­tive ways to share stu­dios, tools, and skills.

On a purely prac­ti­cal level, the Yew Wood­shop is a place for artists to share gi­ant, top­grade tools. There’s a ta­ble saw that’s longer than a Ping-pong ta­ble, and a high-tech CNC laser for in­tri­cate cutouts, for in­stance. They can also split the costs of the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems and divvy their large slabs of wood stored along the walls.

Wood­work­ing, af­ter all, re­quires a Class B artist-stu­dio li­cence in this city—one re­served for the “dirt­i­est”, loud­est, and hard­est-to-house prac­tices in a city where sky-high real es­tate has put space at a premium. But the col­lec­tive model at the Yew is some­thing all artists might look to as a way to sur­vive here.

Step into the work­shop at 1295 Frances Street, in an in­dus­trial sec­tion off Clark Drive, as tens of thou­sands of visi­tors will at the East­side Cul­ture Crawl this week, and you’ll see ev­i­dence of the un­ex­pected side ben­e­fits of set­ting up a co­op­er­a­tive stu­dio like this one. Shar­ing a space, wood artist Ben­jamin Mclaugh­lin tells the Straight on a visit to the stu­dio, has sparked on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the artists and helped them to push their work into new realms.

“There’s been this cross-pol­li­na­tion of work­ing to­gether over the years, as your skills im­prove,” says the artist, sit­ting in the Yew’s show­room by some of his wildly unique sound-res­onat­ing wall hang­ings and ta­bles. “We do share ideas quite a bit and brain­storm about how some­thing could be done. At least half the work I create now in this space is with other de­sign­ers.

“There’s this ten­dency within art and de­sign that pieces in wood aren’t nec­es­sar­ily con­sid­ered to be art. But if you look around, these are very un­com­mon ob­jects—wood is just our paint­brush,” con­tin­ues Mclaugh­lin, an orig­i­nal mem­ber of the col­lec­tive, who splits the space with lines like Ari Lazer’s Sa­cred Light De­sign Co., Wil­low & Stump De­sign Co., and Lo­gan Gil­day of OGA De­sign. “We all share a com­mon goal of cre­at­ing pieces with an archival qual­ity to them.”

For Mclaugh­lin, that means tak­ing his per­cus­sive fur­nish­ings and art­work to more in­tri­cate lengths, mix­ing res­o­nant red wood like padauk and bub­inga with lo­cal sal­vaged hard­woods, in work whose delights go far be­yond the vis­ual.

“I be­lieve nat­u­ral sound can trans­form a space,” ex­plains Mclaugh­lin, who of­ten hides lit­tle hold­ers for drum­sticks in his fur­nish­ings so you can strike them to make rhythms. “When I first heard an­cient African in­stru­ments, the sound was so cap­ti­vat­ing.”

His stu­dio­mate Ari Lazer agrees that shar­ing the space has helped take his in­tri­cate, man­dala-like wood pieces in new direc­tions. At the Crawl, look for some of his hyp­notic new wall mount­ings—laser-cut wheel-like mo­biles whose re­peat­ing pat­terns create dif­fer­ent daz­zling de­signs when they spin at vary­ing speeds.

“I feel so deeply grate­ful to be shar­ing the space,” he tells the Straight from Bo­livia, where he’s trav­elled for in­spi­ra­tion for his light­ing and fur­nish­ings. “The artists and de­sign­ers work­ing out of there are re­ally in­spir­ing and deeply skilled in their own way .... It’s been pro­found and it’s re­ally im­proved my skills.

“So it’s find­ing af­ford­able square footage where you can take on the projects that come your way,” he sums up. “And then in qui­eter ways you have the sup­port you need to carry you through.”

IT’S NOT JUST WOODWORKERS in the East­side Cul­ture Crawl who have turned to a com­mu­nal model. Sculp­tor and mul­ti­me­dia artist Kim Cooper needs ev­ery­thing from weld­ing to wood­work­ing to cast­ing and tex­tile work for her large, or­ganic forms, and she’s one of the founders of Colab (Van­cou­ver Com­mu­nity Lab­o­ra­tory) at 1907 Tri­umph Street. The vast space has 30 key hold­ers and dozens more drop-ins at any given time.

“Every­body has a voice and every­body col­lec­tively makes de­ci­sions,” says Cooper over the phone, one of sev­eral like-minded artists who hunted long and hard for the right Class B space. “It al­lowed me to have an ac­tual stu­dio prac­tice. I don’t know that I would have been able to have that to this de­gree.”

Though shar­ing the space and the tools is a bonus for ten­ants as di­verse as met­al­work-and-wood artist Mark John­ston, leather-shoe cre­ator Love Jules, and colour­ful-re­cy­cled-ma­te­rial sculp­tor Ron Sim­mer, Cooper ad­mits run­ning a col­lec­tive stu­dio is work.

“When you’re al­ready stretched on time,” she ex­plains, “what we’ve set up is a vol­un­teer-run or­ga­ni­za­tion, and we all have to con­trib­ute time.”

As at the Yew Wood­shop, there are ex­pe­ri­ences of con­stant col­lab­o­ra­tion, though; of­ten an artist will send a note out to the en­tire group ask­ing about a de­sign prob­lem and seek­ing some­one who has the knowl­edge or skill to help, Cooper says.

But she also raises an­other chal­lenge that the Yew is shar­ing. Colab has man­aged to se­cure a 10-year lease, but that comes with hav­ing to pay ever-in­creas­ing prop­erty taxes.

“We’re cur­rently try­ing to get the non­profit rate for prop­erty tax—it’s given to churches, and oth­ers get it,” she ex­plains. “But most non­prof­its don’t have the re­sources to fight for these things.”

For their part, Mclaugh­lin’s group at the Yew re­port 30-per­cent prop­erty-tax in­creases in each of the past three years. By next year, he fig­ures, his col­lec­tive will be pay­ing more for prop­erty tax than for rent. And there’s al­ways the fear that if real-es­tate prices con­tinue to climb, they’ll lose the space al­to­gether.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause I per­son­ally be­lieve artists and de­sign re­flect the cul­ture of a place,” he re­flects, “and as long as the pow­ers that be don’t have an is­sue with real es­tate be­ing our pri­mary eco­nomic model, you’re push­ing out the peo­ple that are the cul­tural fab­ric of your city.” IT’S A CHAL­LENGE the East­side Cul­ture Crawl So­ci­ety will be all too aware of as artists open their stu­dios for the event. Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Es­ther Rausen­berg points out that this is the fi­nal year of the Crawl for the Glass Onion Stu­dio, one of the event’s founders, as it’s been sold to a de­vel­oper. She also hears sto­ries of artists fac­ing rents that are dou­bling or even tripling. So, al­though more than 70 thriv­ing spa­ces will greet visi­tors this week, Rausen­berg warns we’re at a cru­cial time. A new mayor has pledged to take on the hous­ing cri­sis and promised tens of thou­sands of new spa­ces. And the Crawl so­ci­ety it­self is en­gaged in a ma­jor study to track how many artist spa­ces it had 10 years ago and how many the East Side has to­day.

Col­lec­tive stu­dios like the Yew and Colab, plus oth­ers like the Ter­mi­nal City Glass Co-op, may be one of the keys to sur­vival—and a struc­ture that vis­ual artists with less in­dus­trial prac­tices might look to. “If you’re just one voice, it’s easy to dis­miss; if you’re a group, you have a much stronger voice,” she as­serts over the phone. “Politi­cians hear you, and I hope the politi­cians hear us more be­cause I feel like we’re at a crit­i­cal point here.”

And of course, just com­ing out to the East­side Cul­ture Crawl is a way of throw­ing your weight be­hind the city’s artists, and their right to have space in the city, as well. “If the pub­lic comes out and sup­ports by buy­ing art and tak­ing part in the Crawl, it says ‘We like this and we want this and this is a part of be­ing in Van­cou­ver,’ ” Rausen­berg says.

The East­side Cul­ture Crawl takes place from Thurs­day to Sun­day (Novem­ber 15 to 18).

Ari Lazer (left) says the Yew Wood­shop has helped hone his de­signs (bot­tom right and mid­dle, left); Ben­jamin Mclaugh­lin crafts sound-res­onat­ing fur­nish­ings (mid­dle top and right); Kim Cooper’s ISO Health sculp­ture.

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