When a small group of East Vancouver artists decided to open their studios to the public in 1997, they wanted to interact with art lovers and share the processes behind their works.
What they didn't know was that they were creating an event that would become one of the most popular on the cultural calendar – and that, less than 20 years later, over 25,000 people would be flocking to 78 buildings across the city's bustling Eastside and taking in works by more than 450 local artists, craftspeople and designers.
"It's not something we did consciously, but we tapped into the fact that people want to understand the art-making process and want to have that dialogue with the artists," says Eastside Culture Crawl executive director Esther Rausenberg, who was one of the event's founding artists. "What is the artist thinking? How do they go about doing this? Sometimes it's about the technique; other times it's about the content. And I think that the public is really intrigued by that."
Featuring works by painters, sculptors, woodworkers, textile artists, print makers, ceramicists, photographers, jewellers and more, the highly social "Crawl" – which this year expanded west to Columbia Street – attracts art lovers from newbies to seasoned collectors and allows them to rub elbows with art makers of all kinds.
They can also get in on the action with workshops and demonstrations, among them a demo of a Jacquard loom – a room-sized, computer-assisted loom that textile artists use to create everything from complex conceptual works to fabrics for home interiors.
Terminal City Glass is offering glass-blowing demonstrations by top Vancouver glass artists; Cineworks is giving a workshop on making handmade 16mm films; and Vancouver woodworker Jesse Toso – who competes in chainsaw-carving contests across the country – is demonstrating what you can create using little more than a slab of wood and a chainsaw. At Melk Art & Design, there's also an afternoon of screen printing geared toward kids aged 3 to 14.
So with hundreds of studios to visit, what's the best way to navigate the Crawl? First and foremost, says Ms. Rausenberg, don't even try to get to all of them. ("Just put that out of your mind right now," she says.) It also helps to focus on a particular building or neighbourhood, she adds, and to stick with studios that are within walking distance. Visiting the website ahead of time can help, too.
"But art is so subjective, and you think you're going to like something, but then you're moved by something else," says Ms. Rausenberg, who regularly gets calls from people hoping to track down a particular artist or work months or even years after the Crawl. "So pick an area, go there and let the works surprise you."
The Eastside Culture Crawl runs through Sunday. Admission is free (culturecrawl.ca).