Meet “Clicky”

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a friend of mine who’s a very connected and active member of Vancouver’s local art scene. It took only a few minutes into the conversation that the subject of isolation in Vancouver came to the surface. Mind you, we were not ranting about it, we were expressing our impatience at how “isolation” has become such a ubiquitous word in this city, that it has almost been normalized. For people like Ash and myself who are connectors by nature, we feel that there’s a lot that can be done to help artists feel more connected and to create a sense of community and kinship within the local art scene.

So first we started theorizing why it might be that a lot of people share this opinion, why does it feel so “clicky”, as they say here? Some even can’t help but sense a fear of the other, and a reluctance to be open and curious. The other day, I saw an Instagram video by Immigrant Lessons, where their founder and co-director Kevin Fraser said, “Vancouver doesn’t collaborate on us... we have wonderful artists here but we’re all like terrified of each other”. This thought alone scares me.
My friend related this sense of disconnection to how young Vancouver is and how, when an artist starts doing “well” they’ll try to protect their knowledge instead of sharing it. I really hope artists are more giving than that. I had a slightly different perspective, given that I was “fresh” here, and have immigrated to Vancouver about two years ago. I attributed this lack of connection or community-bond to the micro-societies that I have come to meet while trying to integrate into the art scene, and how each of these small circles was more or less homogenous and lacked diversity. I’m going to allow myself to use stereotypical language here, just to paint a picture of how for someone new to a place, they notice these issues of diversity because they’re trying to sense where they are accepted. The first scene I met was made of predominantly white middle-aged women practicing fine arts, mostly painting, collage, and photography, and mostly worked with conceptual and abstract themes. Another scene I have encountered was more alternative and interdisciplinary, made of visual and media artists, and advocated for LGBTQ2S+ and feminist rights. The dance scene I have come across seemed a bit different from both, but I have to admit, I don’t know it enough to talk about it. I’m sure other circles exist, but I’m not trying to label all these scenes, I’m just wondering why I haven’t met a scene or space where all of these groups interacted. In many art events I attend, age seems a differentiating factor, where an audience would be predominantly senior or young. Colour is another one, where an event appeals more to color minorities or a white audience. In the end, I realized that this is not a problem within the art world as much as it is a societal symptom. This is a whole lot of generalizations I admit but my point is that there are a lot of artists in this city and a lot of small art communities but what lacks is an attitude of curiosity towards the other. 

A few months later, my friend and I had another meeting upon which he decided to introduce me to his friend, another curious connector, knowing that we’d have a lot to discuss. The three of us sat and quickly, a long conversation of cracking the connectors code, came up. This new friend had an interesting theory that I completely identified with. Vancouver is an escape place for a lot of its residents. People here are almost running away from a distant past, or coming from faraway places to seek change. So, neither building ties nor attachment for that matter, are their forte. I imagined Vancouver as this place you leave your past life to come to. It has a sense of dream and wonder to it. It’s surrounded by mountains and oceans and you can’t really delineate where you feel you’re in an urban buzzing city or where you feel you’re in nature. As a nervous system convert, I associated this refuge idea to the flight response in our sympathetic nervous system. I recently learned that one of the common traits of people who default into their flight response is a need to move houses or countries. If Vancouver attracts people, who, like me, love being on the move, prefer detachment over attachment, have left a past behind and are constantly ready for the next step, then that’s one big city’s nervous system on flight overdrive. I think about the process of shedding one’s emotional baggage, and how it might affect people’s social interactions, and I can’t help but seeing it as an impediment for social engagement. It’s not a bad thing to retreat and do some inner work, it’s actually very necessary. But how could one balance that with staying socially active? 

All these ideas above are definitely speculative, nevertheless, it’s good to productively think about such issues and perhaps even make small steps towards improving our social conditions. Especially when we consider the nature of art-making, and how it’s almost never a singular effort, we realize that if we don’t communicate, and get feedback, we’d struggle a lot with our creativity.  

So, to wrap up my thoughts, I decided to add to my bucket list a new item, that I encourage you to consider adopting yourself: a monthly contribution to making Vancouver less “clicky”, more curious and more connected. This could be any of the following:
- connecting two of my connections together
- making a new connection myself
- attending an art event or workshop that doesn’t fit so perfectly into my practice
- sticking around to the end of an art talk and asking questions
- using social media more consciously, instead of autopilot scrolling, use them as a tool for discovering local
people and engaging with them
- raising awareness, sharing your perspectives on the subject

This obviously means that you are willing to free some time from your busy schedule, another bonding antagonist in today’s age. But just like your art practice needs commitment, so do your socially-engaged activities that bring you mental well-being.

Happy connecting everyone.

Artist and new to Vancouver? Don’t let the Vancouver art scene intimidate you!

So you’re a visual artist who just moved to Vancouver. If you have already made a name to yourself and have exhibited internationally, you’ll probably figure the ins and outs in no time. If you are, like myself, embarking on your journey as an emerging or mid-career artist, chances are, no one in Vancouver has heard of you and you’re just as unfamiliar to the scene as the scene is to you. So, before you get a panic attack, here are a few tips that might help you understand the art community, and perhaps find yours!

1.      Know your galleries

The Vancouver art galleries can be grouped this way: 1. Public Galleries: non-profit and usually affiliated with the city. Ex. Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Richmond Art Gallery and Surrey Art Gallery. These galleries have a lot of community outreach programs and they do a lot of calls and commissions, so keep your ears and eyes open. 2. Commercial galleries that are for profit and interested in works that, well, sell. Examples would be Gallery Jones, Winsor Gallery, Ian Tan, Beaux Xi, Equinox, and others. 3. Artist-Run centers or galleries such as Western Front, Access Gallery, Center A, James Black Gallery and many more, that are mainly not for profit and are the most progressive in my opinion. Here’s my tip for you, find which gallery group makes more sense for the type of work you do (highly recommend going on their website and reading their mandates) then go out there and meet them! They’re all friendly people and you can get more done face to face then over email, at least during the initiation process. Sending an email to book an appointment wouldn’t harm either. Look for their Open Calls on their websites and make sure to have an organized file or folder on your computer where you store your preferred galleries and organizations with their information, calls and deadlines.

2.   Be in the know

There are great online resources for classifieds, events, and resources. B.C Alliance for Arts is a key source for everything arts related, look out for their Artist Calls link! BC Alliance for Arts also give courses in grant writing but chances are you won’t be eligible to any grants until you have spent a year in B.C. You might however be eligible for grants in Canada if you moved from another Canadian state. If you want to know more about your rights as an artist then I highly recommend becoming a CARFAC member which is a community that advocates artists rights. There are many perks to becoming a member, check them out on their website! CARFAC have published an ebook (available on the iTunes store) extensively detailing the art practice in Vancouver, the galleries, the grants, the marketing, pretty much all you need to know. And finally, make sure to subscribe to Instant Coffee, an email newsletter that sends you art listings weekly and pick up or download a copy Preview, a free gallery guide published 5 times yearly. They pretty much cover everything that’s happening around the city and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

3.   Get it from the experts

If you are lost on where to start I definitely recommend taking courses in professional practice. Those classes will set you on the right track and will give you lots and lots of insights beyond this article you are reading. I personally benefited a lot from the course with Pennylane Shen through Thrive School. It was more geared towards painters, collage artists and photographers but any artist can benefit from it. I also recommend the professional practice course by Continuous Studies at Emily Carr University, pricier for sure, but if you have the investment, then might as well take both! Emily Carr also give grant writing courses, so does Richmond Art Gallery. So, stay tuned to their upcoming events or workshops.

4.      Build your own class

I want to reinforce the importance of taking classes or workshops, as I found it the fastest way to build a community when you’re still new and feeling lonely or isolated. And how about starting your own class? Do you have a skill or knowledge that you can share? It sounds complicated to organize but trust me, it isn’t as difficult as trying to be creative in the confinement of your own house! There are a lot of places where you can host an event without space charge. If you’re a media artist you can propose an idea for a workshop to Vivo Media Arts. If you’re more of a mixed media artist or painter you can connect with Opus Art Supplies to do one of their demonstration classes. Some spaces are very affordable, L’Atelier Coworking and the Profile are coworking spaces that are more geared to design and marketing professionals but they are open to any type of event that helps the community. The Toast is a free space that is super quirky and eclectic.

5.      Seek help

Have you read all the above and still feel at a loss as where to start? Find a good coach or art consultant! I personally hired a coach who’s greatly empowered me and helped me organize the mess in my head. Artists tend to be very chaotic or perfectionist which might mean procrastination. A lot of times discussing things with a trained professional can help you assess your priorities and see the potential in your ideas. They also try to connect you with like-minded artists or recommend you galleries or art spaces that fit your practice.

6.      Connect connect connect

Finally, I know it can be very tough when you just got here and don’t know any artists around you, so remember, Vancouver is not as difficult as people say. You just need to be very active and wear that extrovert hat of yours; I know you have it hidden somewhere! Don’t be afraid to reach out, to ask for help, to knock on people’s doors. One thing the Vancouverites are sure good at is referrals. They always try to connect you to someone who has something in common with you. So next time someone says, hey, I know this artist you’d get along with, ask for the artist’s number on the spot!

This is only the tip of the iceberg really. I am hoping it helps and if you want to do your part in helping please add to this by commenting below. 

Disclaimer: I have not shared any links as this is not for advertising purposes, if you need details or would like to know more please get in touch.