A Downtown Eastside artists’ group is hoping for regular exhibits at a Main Street arts space will help bring their work to a wider audience — and provide a respite from the grinding work of overdose prevention in the midst of a deadly toxic drug crisis.
Sarah Blyth, executive director of the Overdose Prevention Society, said the Downtown Eastside Artists’ Collective will hold weekly art exhibits at a space at 2111 Main Street between East 5th and 6th Avenue. The building, which operated as the City Center Motor Hotel for years, is now being temporarily used as artist studios before eventually being developed into new housing.
“A lot of times you get stuck in the Downtown Eastside when you’re living in social housing, or you’re working,” Blyth said.
“It’s nice to be able to work on a project outside of the Downtown Eastside and bring people out and do something different. We’re dealing with a lot of stress and trauma and things like that.”
The first exhibit went up this past Saturday, featuring photographs of the people Blyth calls “First Nations heroes in the Downtown Eastside” because of the leadership work they do in overdose prevention.
The walls of the Overdose Prevention Society’s indoor site at 390 Columbia Street are covered with the art of Smokey Devil, Boy, Ken Foster and others. Those artists will also be showing their work at the 2111 exhibition space in the weeks to come, Blyth said.
While the art will be displayed during the week at the space, Blyth said the best time to come is between 6 and 8 pm on Saturdays, when the collective will be hosting with tea and coffee and some of the art will be for sale.
For artists in the neighbourhood, making art is much more than a hobby: for many, it has been a lifeline through mental illness or substance use-related struggles. Making and selling art is also a way to supplement low incomes. Some artists direct all the proceeds from selling their work back into art supplies.
“We’re trying to be part of bigger projects,” Blyth said. “Some of the best artists in Vancouver are in the Downtown Eastside, and we want to make sure they’re highlighted.”