Siblings Becky, left, and Margaux Wosk (photo from We Belong!)
The first-ever We Belong! Festival will take place Aug. 27 in Downtown Vancouver. Organized by siblings Margaux and Becky Wosk, We Belong! is a “one-of-a-kind creative arts market with a focus on giving disabled artists the opportunity to showcase and sell their art.”
Margaux Wosk is a self-taught artist, an activist and a disability rights advocate, fighting for disabled small business owners to get resources. Becky Wosk is an artist, designer, writer and musician; she and Emmalee Watts form the duo Hollow Twin.
Margaux Wosk started their business, Retrophiliac (shopretrophiliac.com), more than 10 years ago. Its focus is on visual art.
“Being an openly autistic person,” said Wosk, “I found that there was a void in the marketplace for the type of items I wanted to see and purchase.
“My business has really ramped up in the last five years,” they continued, “and I focus on autistic, neurodiversity and disability pride items, such as enamel pins, patches and stickers. I design retro-inspired pins, stickers and patches as well. I also have other items I offer and I have over 26 retailers between Canada and the United States.”
Wosk also uses their business “as a way to talk to the government about disabled small business owners” and they have gone to the provincial budget meeting two years in a row “to rally for funding and resources for other people like myself.”
They explained, “Currently, as it stands, we have no resources, and any of the funding that goes to ‘inclusive employment’ only goes to employers that hire disabled people, not disabled people who own their own business.”
Part of the mission of the We Belong! Festival is to raise awareness.
“I have been part of other markets and I do enjoy it, but none of them meet all of my needs,” said Wosk. “I find that sometimes there are financial barriers, sometimes the events are just too long and I find that it can take a toll on my mind and body. I wanted to create something with little barriers for other disabled artists and we were lucky enough to be the recipients of the Downtown Vancouver BIA’s [Public Space] Vibrancy Grant. This way, we won’t have to charge our vendors any costs and we can provide them tables, canopies and chairs. I want people to see what we’re all capable of.”
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association helped secure the market’s space at 855 West Hastings St. (Lot 19), and it is being provided free of charge. The location, which is between Burrard and Howe streets, is close to Waterfront Station and other public transit points.
“Once the location and date were confirmed,” said Becky Wosk, “we were able to figure out how many vendors we can accommodate and, from there, we put out a call to artists/makers. We have a specific budget to work with, so we have been able to gather quotes for the supplies we will need to make this event successful.
“When working on an event,” she said, “it’s important to work backwards from the date that you have secured and determine what needs to be ordered/booked in advance of that date – for example, canopies need to be booked 30 days out etc. [There are] lots of small details to be mindful of!”
In addition to the vendors who will be selling their creations, the market will include four nonprofits: Artists Helping Artists, Curiko, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Art Hive, which is run by Leamore Cohen, and the BC People First Society, on whose board Margaux Wosk sits, as regional director, Lower Mainland West.
While the deadline to apply as an exhibitor has passed, the Wosks are still looking for volunteers to help with set up and tear down. Anyone interested should email [email protected].
The Aug. 27 market runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.