When Cheryl Cheeks moved into Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood in February and decided to unload a few books, she brought them to one of the area’s pop-up libraries, built and maintained by community residents.
The location she chose was a two-tiered structure crafted from an old shelf found in an alley, located on East 10th Avenue near St. George Street. In its year or so of existence, the free-for-all roadside library has seen the exchange of countless books in the neighbourhood, with its simple motto: lend or borrow, give or receive.
“When I went there, I also had some art prints that I had just kind of fallen out of love with, and some of my own photographs that I had taken, so I took them with me and left them behind,” said Ms. Cheeks, who works as a voice actor, writer and editor. “I kind of felt like I was breaking the rules when I did it, but I did it anyway.”
When she wandered by a few days later, all of her art was gone.
“I had this huge thrill inside of me and, right there, I was like, ‘There needs to be an art exchange,’” she said. “If book exchanges work, there needs to be art exchange.”
In the following weeks, Ms. Cheeks applied for and received a Vancouver Foundation Neighbourhood Small Grant ($350) and acquired the needed materials: cedar planks, hinges, nails, salvaged cabinet doors. Her father, a retired carpenter, helped her build the structure, which stands about six feet tall by three-and-a-half feet wide.
Ms. Cheeks also spoke with members of the Brewery Creek Community Garden crew, who offered her a location for the art exchange on the edge of its lush community garden in Mount Pleasant’s Guelph Park – known to locals as Dude Chilling Park thanks to a joke sign briefly erected there last year. As a tip of the hat, she named her project the Dude Chilling Art Exchange.
Ms. Cheeks and her friends installed the structure over the weekend. Curious passersby stopped to examine its contents, which included old long-exposure photographs Ms. Cheeks had taken, coloured pencils and postcards.
“Welcome to the Dude Chilling Art Exchange,” read a sign posted inside the large cabinet. “Whether you have something at home that needs a new love; you’re inspired to create something specifically for this art exchange; or you’re looking for something new to bring you joy, this is the place to leave it or find it.”
Ms. Cheeks is hoping it will receive art of all kinds, including poetry, short stories and sculptures. “I think whatever comes bubbling out of a creative person’s brain, if they want to put it in there, that’s fantastic,” she said.
“It’s a nifty idea,” said Colin Upton, a cartoonist who stopped to examine the art exchange on Sunday. “As someone in the arts myself, I think I’ll bring up some mini-comics for people.”
The art exchange is the latest in a number of community initiatives created by and for city residents. Like the pop-up libraries, which are typically the size of a mini-fridge and stand unguarded on front yards and road sides, it relies on the honour system – the hope that no one will come along and vandalize it or make off with all the contents.
It is believed Metro Vancouver has between five and 10 “little free libraries.” And now, one little free art exchange.