The City That Grew Up, Between the Mountains 
and the Sea

I was thirteen when came to Vancouver in the summer of 1969. It was a small city with low buildings and a quiet downtown. Having lived in Toronto, then Regina, I was accustomed to relatively uninterrupted horizons and being able to “see” the rest of the world from where I stood. When my family moved here, I began to feel a profound sense of isolation which seemed to come from the constant sight of the mountains which stood between me and the rest of Canada. The veil of grey that hung over the city for long hours on most days further delineated my perception of a restrictive space. This memory made me think about how “place” has shaped my predilections as a designer, and also what effect Vancouver, as a place, has had on its creative community as a whole.

Vancouver is arguably one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Its situation on the west coast of Canada, with the Pacific Ocean, Coastal Mountains and a temperate climate, is the envy of almost every Canadian. Its ancient history, steeped in the trade, politics and spirituality of Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations has deeply impacted the culture, sensitivities and artistic output of the city. It almost seems as if the disruptive style of artists in the sixties, seventies and early eighties was channeling the anger of Indigenous Peoples around the loss of, and impacts to, their traditional territories.

Its prominent placement on, and involvement with, the Pacific Rim permeates every aspect of life in the city. Listening to voices on the street, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Punjabi are often heard more often than English. These cultures influence the creative output of the city and cross-pollinate with established forms.

The nature-driven celebrity of Vancouver has attracted the motion picture, technology and creative industries. With this has come a demand for housing, infrastructure, services and cultural investment. Mercuric growth is a challenge for a civic government to manage. The tax base grows quickly, but so do demands on budgets. The responsibility for city councils and city managers becomes more onerous as their performance is scrutinized by a well-educated population. Not only do they make decisions on funding for the arts but, through their community planning, they ultimately decide whether or not artists can continue to live and/or work in the city.

Vancouver’s contemporary artistic community has always appeared to have maintained a certain swagger. Since my days in art school in the 1970s there has been a confidence, perhaps even defiance, in the mood of artists. As a collective, there has not appeared to have been a “contemplative” personality in Vancouver’s creative community. It is more one of acute awareness and questioning. It is driven by activism, intelligence and empathy. Dr. Scott Watson, Head and Professor at the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia, comments on this in his article “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats”. “In the 1960s, it was asserted that this city led the nation in experimentation and the embrace of new ideas in the arts”. He speaks of Vancouver’s “West Coastness” as tying into the “counter-culture of consciousness raising” rising out of California (Watson). There has been a long-time fetishization of the city, its residents, and its backdrop in Vancouver’s art. Fred Herzog’s documentations of life and moments in the city in the fifties and sixties feel almost sentimental in their voyeuristic insights into Vancouver’s early days. Jeff Wall and Ken Lum of the Vancouver School created work that continued to collect visual data about the changes in the city. Their work maintained a critical edge as if to say, we’re watching….

Contemplating the Curio Cabinet (Philanthropy as a Business)

Philanthropy is generally defined as an act or gift done or made by someone for a humanitarian purpose.  The word itself comes from the ancient Greek, meaning roughly the love of humanity; to care and nourish.  I have been pondering the many ways in which we are exposed to and influenced by artistic events; plays, music, art, lectures – all made available to us thanks to the philanthropic acts of an individual or business.  I readily admit to mixed feelings, actually, a lot of discomfort at the level of philanthropic giving in the Vancouver arts scene; the fact that so many spaces, performances, and careers seem beholden to the favour (patronage) of local philanthropists.  There is much celebration of the generosity of the benefactors and the benefits bestowed upon the public and the arts community, however I cannot shake an uneasy sense of apprehension each time I participate in a cultural event in this city and realize the space or the performance has been underwritten by a local entrepreneur or wealthy philanthropist.  I found Peter Dickinson’s article on Vancouverism (and it’s cultural amenities) provocative; it stimulated my interest to probe a little more deeply into my discomfort issue, guided by several of the discussions raised by Dickinson on the influence of developers on civic arts facility planning.  Our group visit to the Audain Museum was the last push needed to move on with an exploration of role of philanthropy in our current arts culture; the theme of patronage and sustenance for artists; an attempt to understand the personal motivations and desires of an individual philanthropist.  This essay is intended to be a critique of philanthropy by means of a visit to the Audain Art Gallery using commentary on the art seen and the feelings evoked, referencing recent interviews with the philanthropist and reflecting on the work of  Peter Dickinson, Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Max Wyman and Globe & Mail journalist Russell Smith (who’s writing I admire but did not incorporate directly into this inquiry).  I also meandered along a smaller sub theme alluding to the importance and subversive nature of the very wealthy gaining a positive public image by supporting and aligning themselves with the aspirations of an appealing ‘underdog’; specifically British Columbia First Nations Artists.  Are their actions genuine and laudatory or cynical and sinister?  And what are the personal motivations and internal desires which are being played out in these philanthropic actions?  I seem to have been left with more questions than answers and hope that indicates there is still room for compromise and genuine generosity on the part of those with means and power as opposed to opportunistic and shiny endowments to those who struggle to bring their creative works to light.

Response to blog post:”Splendours of the Cloth” by Judith Roche

I was overwhelmed by our visit to the Maiwa Handprints atelier. You gave voice to the richness and sensuousness of the experience of being surrounded by the textiles in that space. Not only were those textiles rich in colour and texture, but they were rich in history, in community, in identity, and in the deep skill of their makers. Where Morris was concerned about the de-skilling of mass production, Charlotte’s business model supports the re-skilling of the artisans with whom she works. It should be noted that she is not merely interested in training artisans to duplicate traditional work, but is specifically interested in capturing the authentic, culturally specific handwork that communities have lost or are in the process of losing. This is perhaps why we both felt the strong need to examine, to handle, and to drape ourselves in those exquisite pieces – could it be that Benjamin’s aura was calling to us?

I concur that Charlotte has done an admirable job of navigating “the treacherous shoals of humanitarian work while forging a business” (Roche, 2017). I pondered this at length and the word that most occupied my thoughts was “generous”. A spirit of generosity runs throughout their enterprise. We were told that the atelier functions as a library for the general public, that the books and textiles are available to be handled and studied. Charlotte and Tim were generous with their time and knowledge during our visit, speaking at length about their work and responding to our inquiries with a refreshing transparency. Charlotte’s openness to error, to experimentation, and to taking the time needed (needed to learn, needed to meet community demands, needed to reach for the sublime) are all extensions of that generosity. I even see the workshops offered through the atelier as an extension of that generosity. I will acknowledge that the cost of the workshops place them above the means of many, but I respect that they are priced in line with the expertise of their instructors. Looking through the catalogue of classes, I see the care that Maiwa takes in seeking artisans with extensive skill and knowledge. I also see a generous number of inexpensive or free lectures and events that offer the interested public an opportunity to learn from the artists themselves. I agree that Maiwa’s success could/should be used as a framework for duplication – I don’t believe I would feel this way if I had not experienced that spirit of generosity in action. Thank you for helping me think through this experience Judith.

Listening With My Feet: Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue

Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue made its debut in Vancouver on May 25th, 2017 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. I wrote sixteen pages of notes during the opening night performance. My notes are messy, with inconsistent spacing, overwriting, and oddly large gaps between lines. My notes look this way because I could not tear my eyes away from the performance, for fear of missing something. The performance was overwhelming, the sheer level of activity onstage was difficult to apprehend.
I sit in my seat and gaze out at the performance space. The air is slightly sweet and reminiscent of the smell after rain – I assume it is related to the smoky haze that hangs in the air, presumably the result of a recently run atmosphere machine. The performance space is black, with six black chairs lurking upstage in the shadows. Set amongst the chairs are five spotlights. I focus on these because they are difficult to assign a name to – they are at once obvious as spotlights and yet also strongly reminiscent of old fashioned dryer helmets. Six dancers, Ralph Escamillan, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate, and Alex Tam, enter the stage, dressed in black.
The piece was 75 minutes in length and so rich with movement and action that I cannot begin to articulate, differentiate, or even transcribe it all. I will describe one moment in this tapestry of movement that moved me. The music pulses with a beat that reminds me of rave parties and dance clubs – the pounding bass driving the body to movement. The lights become more lively, I remember green and purple, flashing. The dancers seem most free during this segment. I can almost believe they are improvising, swaying, stomping, jumping, flapping. Their arms and legs and hands and feet are in control yet move with abandon. I notice one dancer’s eyes sweep the audience and stop, move on and then return. I wonder if he is meeting the eyes of someone he has danced with like this, in a place no less filled with people but far more filled with movement. I am struck by how greatly my own body wishes to move and I briefly consider what would happen if I stood and gave myself over to the beat. That pounding beat is loud in my ears and loud in my chest and loud in my feet.
I remember that music later in the performance when there is no music at all. I am struck by how magical and mundane the quiet feet of dancers are, how they slash through the air but land without almost no sound. For the most part, music disguises that throughout the performance and only in the quiet moments do I find myself appreciating the work in that quiet landing. I wonder about the sound my body produced, when I jumped and swung and flapped and spun to a throbbing beat.
I have been a dancer focused on the noise made by my feet. For sixteen years the shoes I wore while dancing dictated how my feet met the floor. In my soft shoes I landed with a whisper and with my hard shoes I landed with a crack. I think I was so taken by the dance club segment because it was only in my own similar moments of dance could I forget the sound I was supposed to make and instead enjoy how the sound made me feel.

Andrea Leveille

Final Project Abstract

Embracing the Subjective: Using Embodied Criticism and Autoethnography
as a panacea for the evaluative model of Art Criticism

This article aims to explore how embodied criticism and autoethnography can combine to offer an alternative to the traditional evaluative model of art criticism. Contemporary art criticism appears to be poised for radical change, with traditional print mediums being increasingly obsolete and the rise of social media and online platforms contributing to a glut of opinion with little depth. Embodied criticism offers the opportunity to situate the body as the production centre of knowledge, allowing multiple participants a position of authority when engaging critically with art. Autoethnography encourages its participants to look inward for political, social, and economic entanglements and then to shift their gaze outward to situate themselves within the larger context. Involving the potential arts audience in this process of meaning-making encourages non-experts to assume a role of authority, with the primary goal being an increase in the participation of the community in arts consumption and criticism.

Inspired by the form of Robert Mizzi’s “Unraveling Researcher Subjectivity Through Multivocality in Autoethnography” and the challenge put forth by Irit Rogoff, the author presents a vignette encompassing her embodied response combined with a mulitvocal autoethnographic exploration of her visit to the Audain Art Museum. Interspersing evocative narrative with the politically, socially and economically attached voices of Student, Spectator and Critic(al), the author is able to reveal the ambiguous, contradictory, and deeply vulnerable process of meaning making in critical art engagement. Afterwards she traces the roots of this critical approach from Walter Arnold, through Susan Sontag to modern scholars Peter Dickinson and Irit Rogoff.

The author includes an analysis of the benefits and challenges of this approach to art criticism. It’s non-traditional approach runs the risk of not being seen as legitimate in the conservative scholarly community. There is a risk that the audience will refuse to engage with the art, particularly if the critic is writing from a place of unpleasant embodied response. In the end, the benefits of a reciprocal dialogue between critic and audience and art outweigh the possible challenges. In presenting the deeply personal, the author concludes that an appetite for increased art consumption and engagement can be fostered.

Link to article

Andrea Leveille

Creative City: Arts + Flourishing

June 27, 2017

A vibrant Arts City is part of an ecology and requires diverse elements to exist. The flourishing of the arts is dependant on place; it shapes and acts on arts production. In cultivating Vancouver’s visual arts to flourish, a number of strategies will be examined to enable production spaces; encourage philanthropic funding; and create collaborative, exhibition opportunities for artists to thrive.

The City of Vancouver has a sharp duality in its spatial distribution of cultural activities, the Eastside, which is culturally active but relatively low income; and the Westside, that is economically affluent but culturally limited. The conditions attracting the creative class, a socially relevant demographic to create new meaningful forms and creative content to Vancouver serves to create a cultural hierarchy, and  produces disparities in economic status among its residents.

The reality facing emerging and established artists is a myriad of barriers ranging from escalating rents; higher taxes; and zoning uses affecting the affordability and availability of production spaces. The City’s Welcome to Your Flats s a redevelopment plan to create a Cultural Precinct, an amenity node in the Industrial Flats focusing on revitalization without displacing numerous studio spaces at 1000 Parker Street. The health of Vancouver’s arts and cultural sector relies heavily on the Flats with 40 percent of artists studios located in this neighbourhood.

Arts and culture organizations are set up according to disciplines, which detracts from sustaining the health and vibrancy of a broader ecology. Many organizations view their needs in isolation of the broader creative sector or within the context of broader community interests. Collaboration plays a central and increasingly important role in supporting and developing creative practice. The Creative City is about lateral and integrative thinking in all aspects of city planning and urban development, placing artists, not infrastructure, at the centre of the planning processes.

Encouraging philanthropic efforts to support the visual arts as private initiatives for the public good is not a new idea. There is a responsibility with great wealth and the importance of social justice to do good. Audain’s love of place and supporting BC artists and culture are larger contributions to society. Westbank’s ability to change how public art and the function of a patron transforms into cultural expression through a built form to create beauty in the City.

An economic disparity continues to be seen in community programming relative to the Eastside and Westside of Vancouver. The challenges the Arts continues to reflect is to be more truly multi-cultural as the role and make up of the modern city evolves. An opportunity exists for the cultural sector to establish or more accurately reclaim a role that places art firmly at the centre of public debate. It leaves us to revere our artists and to invest in the necessary production spaces, encourage philanthropic funding, and create public exhibition spaces for a healthy, vibrant society.


Statement of Intent: A Socratic Dialogue on Art, Criticism, and the City

After spending six weeks engaged in stimulating conversations with my classmates and industry professionals on Vancouver’s art scene, I have chosen to write a Socratic-style dialogue to explore some of the course’s major themes surrounding the arts: the cultural value, the local scene, and the role of criticism. The Socratic dialogue is a genre of literary prose where a dramatic or narrative dialogue occurs between two or more characters[1]. This form of prose has preserved the works of ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Xenophon, and Socrates[2]. In addition to my desire of trying to write a new form of prose, I selected the dialogue format because I was motivated by what Max Wyman[3], art activist and critic, had said in one of our guest lectures, “the purpose of art criticism is to provide the reader with a different perspective in order to start a conversation.” I thought the dialogue was the best format to showcase what I learned in this course because it mirrors some of the wonderful conversations that I have had with other classmates which further contributed to the enrichment of my learning of the arts.

Using Dorothy Dittrich’s[4], The Piano Teacher, I will begin the dialogue with a critique of the play masquerading the voices of writer and professor, Susan Sontag[5], and art historian, Linda Nochlin[6]. I selected this powerful and emotional play because of the way in which it explores the themes of personal tragedy and grief while using love, friendship, and music as catalysts for healing and recovery. Sontag and Nochlin, known for their contributions to the art world, will approach the theatrical piece from two different perspectives. Sontag, celebrated for arguing against the emphasis of intellectually constructed notions on analyzing the aesthetics[7], will explore the transcendental power of music and friendship and its impact on self-healing. On the other hand, Nochlin, a pioneer in feminist art history and theory, will approach the piece through a feminist lens, focussing on the play’s romantic and platonic relationships and its effect on the character’s recovery.

In addition to Sontag and Nochlin, I will include a third voice, a mediator who will not only facilitate the dialogue but also, question the role of the critic and its importance within the arts. This third voice is also a reflection of myself, representing questions and thoughts that emerged throughout the course of the term. At the same time, all three voices will share some of the revelations I had while our class explored the arts in further detail through the course readings, lectures, field trips, and classroom discussions. Although this Socratic dialogue may not be as philosophical as the dialogues Socrates had with his students, Plato and Xenophon, it does offer a setting conducive to exhibiting my personal journey of learning about art, criticism, and the city.

[1] Wikipedia. Socratic dialogue. Accessed June 13, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] For more on Max Wyman, see The Canadian Encyclopedia. “Max Wyman.” Accessed June 13, 2017.

[4] For more on Dorothy Dittrich, see Dorothy Dittrich’s website. Accessed June 13, 2017.

[5] Wikipedia. Susan Sontag. Accessed June 13, 2017.

[6] Wikipedia. Linda Nochlin. Accessed June 13, 2017.

[7] Wikipedia. Susan Sontag. Accessed June 13, 2017.


Blog-post response: Art and Accessibility

In her piece on the Audain Art Museum, Casey wrote of the privilege she experienced in seeing the art there with a private tour by their chief curator, and the comment gave me pause because I’ve felt this twinge of privilege closely as well, both then and in my personal life: I’m currently writing this sitting in a little garret in Paris, having seen both Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre in recent days.  Last summer I used all my family’s travel money to fly to Madrid on a whim with my sister to see a temporary art exhibit there, and I’ve even flown to Los Angeles and Boston for weekends just to see art. What an absurdly advantageous position I’m in that I’ve had the budget, the supportive family, and the time to do those things! I wish everyone could experience this same accessibility to art. When Casey asked “why does the value of art seem to be intrinsically tied to this inaccessibility, rarity, and exotic nature?”, I thought of museums I’ve seen in recent years and how readily many museums offer discounted or free days for those of less means to make art more accessible, not less.

The Prada museum in Madrid, considered one of the top ten museums in the world, is open to visitors for free four hours each day.   The Reina Sofia and Thyssen museums, also in Madrid, give free access to kids under eighteen years old, students, teachers, and people who are out of work– and have evenings or certain days of the week free.  The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay here in Paris are not as deeply discounted but still offer free access to kids under eighteen and one free day a week or month.  London’s big museums are almost all free, all the time, so anyone can walk in during their lunch break and see a favourite painting for ten minutes a day if they live or work nearby. Lest you think only European cities care about public space and culture, the Met in New York City also offers many opportunities to take advantage of price reductions for special circumstances too. Perhaps the Audain Art Museum, at eighteen dollars per entry (on par with or more expensive than many of the museums mentioned here) would garner some gratitude if they offered parts of each day free or at a reduced cost? Or allow First Nations student visitors free access?  Even the Audain changing their age limit on free access for kids to eighteen from sixteen (it’s current policy) would seem appropriate if it wants to be grouped with the world class museums I’ve mentioned here (despite its smaller size).

Museums always point out the need to maintain their beautiful buildings and that restoration and security cost money, which is why there is a cost. Like the Audain collection, many art museums around the world began as collections within one wealthy family (the Borghese and Pamphili galleries in Rome are examples that come to mind). In my experience these kinds of smaller family collections are often the kind that do not offer discounted rates or times, and although I may sometimes struggle with the reasoning behind those choices I’m still glad to have the option to pay a fee to see their art rather than have it locked away and completely inaccessible to the public.

It would seem many large museums are trying to keep art valuable and exotic– they host large scale exhibitions with paintings from around the world and bring in experts for special lectures, while maintaining social media accounts in an effort to reach out to the public to remain relevant. Their reduced entry fees appear to be part of that same effort. After all, if enjoying art is to be so expensive that it ceases to be an enjoyable experience for many, surely the value of it will diminish?

– Cathy Collis (typed with one finger on my tiny iPhone in Paris)


Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine

The Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine is an art installation that represents the intersection of a number of ideas and concepts from this course, through it is centered on 2 major conceptual themes; play and animism.

The inspiration for play comes from the work of Michael Nicoll Yagulanaas. I am also using formal studies of play to inform the work such as Ludology the study of game playing, and play psychology. The second major theme guiding this work, Animism, is inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ideas in Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction where he suggests that both natural and art objects have an aura that radiates from their beauty and authenticity. Benjamin’s ideas that art has ritual, magical, and religious functions combined with an aura stemming from authenticity have some distinct resonance with Animistic spiritual beliefs, rituals, and practice.

In the Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine am using play in a number of contexts: play as in an attitude of whimsy and fun, playing across media, playing outside of what is considered traditional art showing spaces (like a gallery) and how that space interacts with art, playing with the interactivity of audience, playing with collecting, the theatricality of play, playing with preconceived ideas of what art is, and playing outside of my comfort zone by trying new things. I am attempting to create a space that distances itself slightly from reality that evokes fantasy, myth, and ritual that celebrates the aura within both natural and art objects. I have set up the installation on the Burrard Inlet Trail (hence the name.) As a location it appeals to me as the Trail is in both a residential area of the city of Burnaby and in a natural area at the same time. This Trail is also in the vicinity that I call home so it has a certain feel and familiarity to me. In Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine I worked relatively intuitively allowing the process to guide the form of the installation that was anchored in research and inspired by visual images of Japanese Shinto shrines and other animistic nature shrines, the work of Andy Goldsworthy and some imagery from the video game Skyrim. To create the shrine I used a combination of found objects and things that I sculpted. I recreated some small Skyrim inspired objects by sculpting them with clay and painting them. I also displayed some of the items in bowls and glasses that I purchased from a thrift store. In addition I went to the site beforehand, collected some rocks, brought them home and painted them, then re-incorporated them back into the shrine. I am attempting to engage the audience (anyone who happens to walk this trail) into an interactive Seeing or deep observation as inspired by Anne Dillard. I will revisit the shrine every few days for a week or so to see if any interaction or participation happened with the piece. I’m not sure if or when I will take it down or not, I will decide once I see how people have reacted to it and how it reacts to the elements.


Blog-post response: Why I loved ‘Goodfellas and Marty’s Marvelous Movie Magic’

This is a mushy response to Melissa, Melanie and Marty’s Marvelous Movie Magic from someone in the oh, five percent of the Western world who had never seen Martin Scorsese’s Mafia epic before two little words popped on the “Arts, Criticism and the City” class schedule: “See: Goodfellas.”

Perhaps another work of art will explain why I have lived 66 years without seeing this movie. When I was growing up in rural Alberta, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was published. The non-fiction book told of two convicts invading an isolated prairie farmhouse at night and killing four people. Living as I did in an isolated farmhouse with no lock on the door, the idea was so horrifying that I have not read it to this day. As an adult, I never got over that aversion to depictions of violence and blood. So, Goodfellas: Suspense, revenge, gruesome deaths, twisted remorseless people. In spite of the accolades, I avoided it.

But this GLS course, for me, was about exposure to unfamiliar territory, so I “watched” Goodfellas, skipping about 30 of its 145 minutes to avoid the worst of the bloody bits.

Even still, I loved it. The speed, the brashness, the exhilaration of swooping non-stop through a world that was deeply familiar and yet utterly foreign. Set in the late 1960s and into the ‘80s, this was the world of my young adulthood– the music, the fashions, the cars, the sexism, and everybody smoking everywhere. For me, placing that familiarity side by side with the vicious violence of the gangster world gave the movie a split-personality feel. I reveled in one side of it; I was appalled by the other.

Melissa, who obviously knows the movie well, helped me understand what got to me about it. Look behind Scorsese’s sleight of hand, she said, and notice the way the camerawork, shot composition and soundtrack help tell the story. The fact that the camera shifts viewpoint just before Ray Liotta opens the thumping trunk shows his unease just as much as his expression does, she noted. “Every shot, every sequence contributes to the overall narrative and taking us on the journey through it.” We’re enticed – certainly I was – by the excitement and energy, even as it was clear horrible things were on the way. Melissa analyzed how Scorsese makes us care about clearly awful people: Was it the way Henry was beaten by his father? The way Paulie sliced garlic? I cared because the people seemed real. I remember the glow on young Henry’s face as he showed his mother his first flashy suit, and his mother’s horror: “You look like a gangster!” she said. A small moment, but it revealed the irreparable split between mother and son. He was utterly committed to a criminal life and she was powerless.

To me, Scorsese has always just been a name, but Melanie Friesen’s first-hand description of working with him turned him into a real person. Now when I think of Scorsese and Goodfellas, I will think of a sickly kid at his window, watching gangsters across the street and absorbing every detail. One of Scorsese’s most powerful films came from real-life observation, his former head of development said in her talk, titled “Art: Do what you know.”

Between Friesen, Melissa, and the movie itself, I now have something new in my life: I will never be able to listen to a hovering helicopter in quite the same way again.

— Carol Volkart