Super Cool Tuesdays connects inner-city residents with art
Everyone has a right to culture
It’s 5:30 p.m. on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. A small crowd waits in line outside a glass storefront at the cornerof East Hastings and Carrall Streets. Inside, three women race back and forth, setting up tables, moving chairs around and scattering a range of art materials throughout the room. The people outside are residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and they are here to engage in art.
This is Super Cool Tuesdays—a drop- in speaker series that brings together artists and members of the DTES community to talk about what art is and how it’s made. SFU Woodward’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement works in partnership with the Drug Users Resource Centre to run the program.
The art-focused talks inspire participants to connect with each other and, in the process, touch upon a range of socialand political concerns. People share stories about what it’s like to be an immigrant in a new country and the experience of dropping out of college. “It’s basically a de-schooled conversation that is based on honest questions the participants have about art,” says Andrea Creamer, who organizes the event.
Creamer was a visual arts student at SFU when she first became involved with the project. Since then, she’s brought in nearly 40 local and visiting artists to share their experiences at Super Cool Tuesdays.
Robyn Livingstone is one of the longest-standing Super Cool Tuesdays participants. He attended the first gathering nearly four years ago, and hasn’t missed one event since. “It’s always exciting totalk about art,” says Livingstone. “[The program] has made me feel more involved in the art world. I like to go to gallery openings, talk to people and blend in.”
The event takes place at the Interurban Gallery, only two blocks away from the SFU Woodward’s Building. Super Cool Tuesdays could be held at SFU, Creamer notes, but the institution is still a barrier for many of the participants. Located across the street from Pigeon Park, where Vancouver’s downtown ends and the DTES begins, the Interurban acts as a bridge between the community and the institution.
From talking to making
It’s 5:45 p.m. and the crowd is getting bigger. A woman dressed in a grey toque and a black coat talks excitedly about what she is going to make today. She peeks inside and spots a drawing she made hanging on a clothesline. It’s the face of a tiger, coloured in blue and orange with a cutout mouth, so she can stick her tongue out, she explains.
In February, Super Cool Tuesdays launched a new series where participants made art instead of just talking about it. “This is huge,” says Livingstone.“We are actually doing art, as artists.It’s totally wild and exciting.”
Over six weeks, Tin Can Studio—a mobile project space housed in a vintage 18-foot Streamline trailer—partnered with Super Cool Tuesdays to bring art making to the DTES. Artists Caroline Ballhorn and Jenny Lee Craig, co-creators of the studio, led workshops for members of the DTES community. Together, they explored a variety of materials, processes and play.
“The first week that we came in with the trailer, we parked it in the middle of the gallery and we talked about the work we’ve done in the past,” says Ballhorn. “The next week we asked the participants what they were excited to see happening, what art they wanted to make.”
In the beginning, participants were hesitant to jump into the fray. “There were folks sitting down with an abundanceof materials but they didn’t know whatto do,” Creamer explains. “There were all these options and all this freedom, but they couldn’t enter that freedom because it’s not their reality.”
But as the series progressed, participants started to feel more comfortable— volunteering ideas, asking questions about process, and requesting materials. What really helped this shift in attitude, says Ballhorn, was to not impose a theme.
“We didn’t want to make people work along any lines. We wanted to get participants to make what they wanted to make, on their own terms,” she says.
“It was like my second childhood”
It’s now 6 p.m. The doors of the Interurban Gallery have just opened. A group of 10 people walk in and choose where they want to sit. Scattered across the gallery are stations for embroidery, painting, drawing and silk-screening.
Earl Greyeyes doesn’t sit anywhere. Instead, he walks up to Ballhorn. He has something he wants to tell her. “I think you finally got through to the people,” he says. Greyeyes has been coming to Super Cool Tuesdays for two years, but it wasn’t until recently that he “really felt it.”
“Last week when I was painting, it was like my second childhood. I felt so good,” he recalls. “I went home smiling. I put the painting up on my wall. It made me so happy.” Ballhorn says this edition of the series has been an opportunity for some participants to experience art again. “There are people who have come in who used to do art before,” he says. “This is a chanceto reconnect with their creativity.”
Across the gallery from Greyeyes, Livingstone examines the print he’s made once again—nine horizontal lines in turquoise running across a square- shaped piece of cloth. “Art is part of life,” says Livingstone. “You do art every day, even if you don’t realize it.”
The six-week edition of the series culminated in a gallery exhibition in early April. A variety of works were on display, from a painting of an eagle to a giant toaster oven. Livingstone’s print hung from a clothesline, exactly where he’d left it.
“We all have the right to experience art”
By providing a safe, open space where participants can experience, question, and examine art works and practices, Creamer hopes that Super Cool Tuesdays is making art more accessible to the DTES community. “Sometimes art can feel like a non-invitation,” she explains. “But everyone has a right to culture. We all have the right to attend, see and experience art.”
In the last few years, she’s noticed a positive change. Participants have started interacting with art outside of Super Cool Tuesdays. “They attend openings and events at SFU. Now they know you don’t have to have a degree in art to appreciate or to talk about it,” she adds. Ballhorn and Craig hope participants like Greyeyes and Livingstone will continue to make art long after the series ends.
“Creativity can be a way for people to deal with some of the bigger societal pressures,” says Ballhorn. “It can allow people to reflect on those pressures in a healthy way.”