a grubby patch of no-man’s-land in East Vancouver that has long been studded
with anonymous industrial units. Just off Main Street, these low-rise, concrete
block buildings – mostly on East 1st Avenue and Great Northern Way – have for
decades been a hive of small-scale manufacturing.
most locals have routinely ignored the area. Until now, that is.
On 27 July, a block party marked
the launch of The Flats, Vancouver’s newest
art district, named after the low-lying marshland that once existed here. Colonising
a clutch of old workshops, 15 free-entry galleries and exhibition spaces
now call the area home.
us used to be on South Granville [a high-profile storefront district on the
city’s West Side], but we each realised we could make the move here and have
much larger galleries,” said Jennifer Winsor, owner of the Winsor
Gallery. “We’re all quite collegiate and the idea from day one was
to work together to create a new destination art district.”
some of Vancouver’s most prominent galleries onboard helped. Alongside the
Winsor, which moved here in December 2012, other Flats heavy hitters include Equinox
Gallery, Monte Clark Gallery and Catriona
Jeffries Gallery. Each specialises in contemporary Canadian art,
ranging from photoconceptualism to sculpture, abstract painting to First
the blank canvas opportunity that lured many to set up shop.
on the neighbourhood’s gritty industrial feel and starting gallery spaces from
scratch was a big attraction,” Winsor said. “Our new space is much more
functional – we have two large rooms, high ceilings and far fewer limitations
on what we can exhibit.”
It is not
just gallery owners who are excited about the district’s potential, though.
Local artists are also keen to see the fledgling area take off.
it’s great to have all your galleries in one spot,” said Angela
Grossmann, whose paintings and collages have been exhibited around
the world. “I hate visiting cities where the galleries are all spread out and
you have to trawl around – especially in a place like Vancouver where it rains
painter Bradley Harms, whose studio is located in the neighbourhood,
agreed. “South Granville was too spread out,” he said. “But here visitors can
give themselves over to an afternoon of art.”
Contributing to the district’s growth spurt, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design is scheduled to open a Great
Northern Way campus in 2016. Currently located across town on Granville Island,
it is one of Canada’s most prestigious art schools. Its purpose-built new
facility will bring hundreds of young artists into the neighbourhood, joining
for Digital Media, a partnership by four local universities for
graduate students, which opened in 2012.
these new educational institutions will offer plenty of arty action – the new Emily Carr campus is expected to echo the current
site’s public gallery and roster of art shows – another type of creative
production will also give visitors a reason to explore the area: especially if they
Truck Beer, a popular local brewery, is building a new 1st Avenue production
facility and retro diner in the heart of the gallery district. Expected to open
before the end of 2013, it will join close-to-opening craft beer producer Main Street Brewing and the just-opened Brassneck
Brewery in quenching area thirsts.
But while a critical mass of galleries and attendant businesses is necessary,
a shift in local perceptions may also be required to ensure the district’s success.
Vancouver has a reputation for being an outdoorsy city, where residents are
more interested in hiking and biking than musing over paintings and
“There’s an enormous amount
of art being created here, but local audiences are
sometimes afraid to engage or support it,” said Chris Bentzen, the
multi-tattooed owner of Hot Art Wet City. “I’m hoping the new
district will bring in people who don’t usually go to galleries.” His small
gallery, located on the edge of The Flats, stages some of Vancouver’s most
entertaining art shows. The gallery’s eclectic themes have included painted
bike saddles, art made by adults when they were teenagers and a Star Wars- and
Star Trek-inspired show that included a large AT-AT model that doubled as a
steampunk drinks cabinet.
spearheaded First Thursday, a monthly
self-directed art walk around the area’s galleries. “I’ve been to these in
cities like Seattle and Portland and I was struck by how many people were going
from gallery to gallery. I’d like to think we can create that kind of
For now, though, the city’s
new art district is working hard to put itself on the map, enticing locals and visitors to explore
an unfamiliar area of Vancouver.
Expected to open before the end of 2013, it will
join close-to-opening craft beer producers Main Street Brewing and the
just-opened Brassneck Brewery in quenching area thirsts.