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Cathy Jenkins: Nikita, Grizzly (in progress), 65"h x 35"w x 78"L (8,000 lbs), BC serpentine stone.Michael Mosher

It started with just 45 Strathcona visual artists who opened their studios for art lovers to see their works, to chat about the processes behind them, and of course, to buy.

Now almost two decades later, the Eastside Culture Crawl features more than 350 painters, sculptors, printmakers, ceramic artists, photographers, woodworkers, jewellers and more – and draws crowds of more than 20,000 who mill through their open studios from Main to Victoria. The demand has increased so significantly, in fact, that this year organizers added a fourth day to the free weekend-long event, affectionately known as The Crawl.

But in addition to upping the hours, executive director Esther Rausenberg says organizers also expanded the number of workshops and demonstrations, among them outdoor film and video projections on the Parker Street Studios building; live demonstrations of leather work at Fiveleft Leather; screen printmaking for kids at melk art & design; and live painting to live music with painter Evaly.

"We really want that deeper connection between the public and the artists," Ms. Rausenberg says. "We want the public to come and purchase work, but we want them to understand how that process comes about, because when people gain a deeper understanding of what the art is about, they become more strongly connected to it. And that's important."

So with dozens of studios to choose from, where to start? Ms. Rausenberg says art world newbies might want to explore some of the smaller studios, because they would have a better chance of speaking directly with the artists, while veterans may want to start with a particular medium such as painting or ceramics, or brave the larger buildings such as Parker Street and Mergatroid.

And if you're short on time, Ms. Rausenberg recommends heading for an area such as Strathcona near Hawks Street, which has a wide range of artists within a four-block radius, as well as plenty of cafés where art fans can easily refuel.

But whatever you do, she advises, just don't try to do it all.

"Some people like that challenge and think that they're going to do it," Ms. Rausenberg, who did her best to get to all of the studios last year, says with a hearty laugh. "But it's an impossible undertaking. It's just not realistic."

The Eastside Culture Crawl runs Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free (culturecrawl.ca).