This year’s West of Main Art Walk will be event founder Pnina Granirer’s last open studio. (photo from Pnina Granirer)
In European cities such as Paris, art has been blooming for centuries and is an essential component of life and culture. Unfortunately, in the relatively young city of Vancouver, art was barely noticed in the early ’90s.
While living in Paris in 1992, I discovered an amazing number of galleries and museums and spent every free moment gorging myself on a wealth of art. One of the most exciting happenings occurred in the spring, when an unusual event burst onto the city: Le Génie de la Bastille. All around the arrondissement (neighbourhood) of the Bastille, hundreds of artists opened their studios to the public for an entire week. A large exhibition at the City Hall was launched and maps were handed out to the public, showing the location of each studio. Every day, map in hand, I would go up and down the ubiquitous five-floor buildings in the area, soaking in the opportunity of seeing the great variety of works and talking to the artists.
Too soon, I was back in Vancouver, still thinking with much pleasure about that wonderful week in Paris. Getting together with my artist friend, Anne Adams, who passed away in 2007, I described to her the exciting days spent visiting the artists’ studios in the City of Lights, when a sudden thought occurred to me. Anne, I said, what if we tried doing this here? Are any artists living in our neighbourhood, who might be interested?
Anne was as excited at the idea as I was, and we approached the now-defunct local Courier newspaper, which was very supportive and published an article with a call to artists. We did not have to wait long for the telephone to start ringing. To our delight, we discovered a good number of artists living in Point Grey, Kitsilano and Dunbar/Kerrisdale who wanted to participate.
A small group of us got together to plan the event. We needed a venue to have an opening exhibition, followed by a weekend when the artists would open their studios and their homes to the public. This had never been done before in Vancouver!
The West Point Grey Community Centre at Aberthau offered its space and the first exhibition opened in 1993. Word spread like wildfire. We were inundated with calls from artists who wanted to join. This will be too much for one weekend, I thought, let’s keep it small and limit the number of studios to no more than 20, so that everyone’s work could be seen.
I had the idea to hold the Art Walk over three weeks, one week for each neighbourhood. There was a lot of work to do, all of it voluntary. This was a time without the internet, so we used a “telephone tree” and the mail. Anne was an excellent organizer. I was quite idealistic at that time and suggested that we do not ask for any grants or taxpayers’ money, although donations from businesses and private donors were welcome. We would prove that artists had initiative and could do such an event by themselves – and it worked! We proved that artists were capable of contributing and enriching their communities by sharing their art and creativity.
We needed a name that would represent us. After sifting through many names, we decided to call ourselves Artists in our Midst, as we were all artists living in the midst of our community. By two years later, our idea had caught on and spread all over the city and the Lower Mainland, and we are all culturally richer for it.
Over the 30 years since we began, much has changed, including the name, which is now West of Main Art Walk. We are now back to only one weekend, but many new artists have joined us. Everyone is invited to visit us the last weekend in May, enjoy the art and perhaps take some home to live with.
As for myself, all of my works will be offered at 50% discount. And I will repeat last year’s idea of a fundraising sale to benefit Stand Up for Mental Health, founded by my son, David, the recipient of a Governor General Meritorious Service Medal. He teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness, as a way of building confidence and fighting public stigma and has been invited to work all across Canada, the United States and Australia.
This will be my last open studio and sale. Hope to see you!
West of Main Art Walk features more than 50 participating artists, including many Jewish community members, who invite visitors to their studios May 27-28, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For the studio map and more information, visit artistsinourmidst.com.