The Eastside Culture Crawl reveals a new side of itself

From painters, sculptors and carpenters, to musicians and performers, Eastside artists get the chance every year to open up their studios to curious visitors, display their work and engage in deep discussion about their art practice.

The Eastside Culture Crawl has been around for 14 years and over the course of three days, attracts about 10,000 visitors through studio visits, special events and performances. The participating artists are residents of the area between Main Street to Victoria Drive and First Avenue north to the waterfront. While more than 300 artists are involved in the three-day event, the exposure they get is limited to the finished state of their work. The fact remains that a significant part of art making goes unseen: the thought process that drives its creation.

This is a concept that local artist and designer Alex Henderson found interesting and decided to address in the preview show for this year's Culture Crawl, a group exhibition called Process and Intent: The Making of Art. "As an artist, I know how important the process is.” said Henderson, “I thought it would be a good take on the show."

The Culture Crawl is driven by what Henderson describes as the demystifying of art and artists. "It's about getting people to not be intimidated by art and taking away the mystery in how art is made,” she explains. People of all walks of life attend the Culture Crawl because it is different than visiting a museum or gallery. The idea behind the event is that visitors can choose their medium of interest, or artists whose work they are interested in, and experience the art firsthand. “It brings art to everyone's level and makes it approachable,” says Henderson. This makes the Culture Crawl an interactive event, even for a younger audience.

The organizers of the Culture Crawl put together a preview show every year, but Henderson felt that it would be good to have a curatorial angle for such a diverse collection of artists. The exhibit opened on the 10th of November and is a collection of sketches, prototypes, video work and other forms of documentation from 15 artists. These pieces represent the stages of art work as it is being made in addition to the processes that led to it's completion.

The idea for the show came about eight months ago as Henderson's husband Ben Burnett, a participant in the Crawl, was working on the prototype for a chair. Originally a sculptor, Burnett is known for using salvaged wood to create furniture pieces combining form and function. His contribution to the preview show was a small prototype, about the size of coffee mug and sketches of the chair. The effect is striking – a sleek, modern design carved into unfinished, splintered wood, at about 5 per cent of the size of a regular chair. "There was something nice about the unfinished work, you could sense the energy behind the piece," says Henderson about the prototype.

The sketches and prototypes convey a sense of potential, inspiration and frustration. Looking at the drawing of a chair redone 10 times on a page communicates the desire for perfection – or at least for getting it right – that an artist might go through. The sketches demonstrate a common artistic process of trial and error. Still, the contributions of other artists show that each person has a different approach to making art, from the well-planned to the accidental.

Process and Intent, Henderson hopes, will add a different dimension to the Culture Crawl this year – one that will create a bridge between the artist's process and what the visitors see. "In the culture crawl, people visit the studios but the artists clean up their workspaces. The public doesn't see the real working process," says Henderson, adding that people don't see how a painting is painted, only the final product.

In addition, it gives a chance to promote the artist, which is what the Culture Crawl is about, after all. In fact, some artists participating in the preview have seized the opportunity to put up their work for sale, a step that suggests that the idea behind a work of art may be just as important – and marketable – as the art itself. Henderson explains that they wanted to show that the early sketches can be just as beautiful and valuable as the final product.

Process and Intent: The Making of Art runs at the Vancouver East Cultural Center until November 28.

//Sarah Mansour, Writer

//illustration by Karen Picketts

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