Powell Street Festival and WePress: Art and Advocacy in Action

This article was published in the July issue of The Bulletin / Geppo magazine, a monthly publication of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association (GVJCCA) and can be viewed here as well:


Powell Street Festival and WePress:
Art and Advocacy in Action

by PSFS + WePress

With multi-year funding from Vancouver Foundation, Powell Street Festival Society (PSFS) and WePress Community Arts Space Society are sharing art-making skills and strengthening community connections in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This exciting partnership between the well-established Japanese Canadian arts and culture organization and the burgeoning community arts space has emerged from decades of community building efforts, fortuitous connections, and dynamic collaborations.

In the late 1990s, there were calls for PSFS to move the festival because some Society stakeholders felt Oppenheimer Park was ‘unsafe’ and ‘unappealing‘ and, together with the absence of Japanese Canadian businesses and homes, perceived the neighbourhood as insupportable. Thankfully, the voices advocating for history and social justice prevailed, and PSFS remains deeply committed to its geographic location. The festival’s core organizers and supporters believe that our agency as historically displaced people can be put to good use as allies to other communities facing marginalization and injustices today.

In 2006, the Society formed an Advocacy & Outreach Committee (AOC) with a mandate to promote the profile of the organization to the cultural, social, political and mainstream communities; and participate in Downtown Eastside community-building efforts. Since then, the AOC programming has grown to include annual events throughout the year – including the Asahi Tribute Game (join us for the 14th Annual Game on Saturday, August 17, 2019 from 10am to 2pm).

In 2014, the WePress Collective was formed to create a dedicated space for arts-based community development and first opened its doors in 2016. By offering a safe and welcoming space in which to make art, WePress works with those who are marginalized by systems of class, sexuality, gender, race, culture, disability, mental health, addictions, and colonization to empower themselves and build community capacity and resilience through art-making. WePress is known for its antique letterpress and collection of English and Chinese type, 3D printer, computer lab, and industrial sewing machine.

It is no coincidence that four of the seven collective members also have roles within PSFS as staff, contractors, and volunteers, and of these, three are taiko drummers! Each of the collective members have connections to the DTES and many have lived experience with diverse forms of marginalization.

Through its support of WePress, PSFS continues to link the history of Japanese Canadian expulsion from the DTES during WWII with challenges of displacement faced by current residents, and to be a committed partner with residents and groups working in the neighbourhood. In this way, PSFS and WePress bring together people from diverse income levels to interact, make art together, and learn a little about each others’ lives. PSFS and WePress’ shared goals and values help both organizations thrive. Together, we harness the power of arts and culture to change how money, skills, and opportunities reach marginalized people, while engaging professional, emerging, and self-taught artists to create new works and build community.

WePress has an exciting new project called The Art & Stories of Chinese Seniors in Vancouver’s Chinatown underway, and is partnering with the AOC on the Wild Salmon Caravan salmon-making workshops. For anyone interested in this kind of work – where art and advocacy come together to strive for social change and justice – please contact WePress at info [at] wepress.ca and check wepress.ca for upcoming workshops and events! WePress is located in a new BC Housing subsidized space with Gallery Gachet (Beacon Hotel, 9 W. Hastings Street).

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