Created by long-time artists and community organizers, WePress is a community artspace in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver, BC, Canada on the occupied and unceded ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The mission of WePress is to advance education by providing workshops on historic and contemporary methods of print- and art-making for the public, with a particular focus on individuals from marginalized communities in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).
WePress offers historic and contemporary methods of print- and art-making in a safe and welcoming space, particularly to those marginalized by systems of class, sexuality, gender, race, culture, disability, mental health, addictions, and colonization. We seek to support them to voice their stories, lived experience, and dreams, and to build community capacity and resilience through art-making.
We are providing education and art-making opportunities – particularly for our unique assortment of hard-to-access technologies, including a letterpress and type (wood, polymer, and metal letterforms, and soon, a set of 8000+ Chinese characters), and two 3D printers – to the public from our space in the downtown eastside.
WePress started as the Ho Sun Hing Project, a large group of diverse people who came together in late autumn 2013 to raise money to purchase a set of Chinese type (over 8000 characters) from the Ho Sun Hing Print Shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown, which was closing down after more than 100 years of operation. The project gradually transformed when the old Woodwards letterpress and type collection, then owned by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV), became available but needed a new home. Throughout 2014 and 2015, a small subset of the original group continued to meet and make plans. We found temporary storage for the letterpress and type, thanks to the generosity of Gallery Gachet, and kept the project alive. The real game-changer came when we received a Vancouver Foundation grant and found our first space at the Sun Wah Centre. On February 8, 2016, we opened our doors at #202 – 268 Keefer Street and in September of that year, became a registered non-profit society. In January 2017, CACV sold the Woodward’s letterpress and type collection to WePress for $1. In July, 2018, Gallery Gachet signed a lease with BC Housing (now through Community Impact Real Estate) for a shared space at 9 W. Hastings on the ground floor of the Beacon Hotel that we moved into in November. We got our charitable status in 2019 and in 2022, we were able to find our own new space at 185 E. Hastings St and we are working to open this new space to the public.
WePress owes a large part of its existence to the support it received from the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV), Gallery Gachet, and the Vancouver Foundation. Through our partnership with CACV, WePress received a Vancouver Foundation Arts and Culture Field of Interest Development grant in 2015. As well, CACV lent and then sold its Woodward’s letterpress and type to the community through WePress, and helped administer our grant. Gallery Gachet has truly been the keeper of the press and type collection – storing it when it was first donated to CACV, and again while WePress was looking for the space it found in Chinatown. We owe a debt of gratitude to these organizations, and would like to recognize them for their generosity, sense of community, and long-term vision – providing major support to WePress during our first year. We will be forever grateful.
Since its establishment, WePress has:
- Offered art workshops and training, and developed art projects built by and for participants from the DTES;
- Grown our unique collection of art-making equipment and supplies;
- Helped support the DTES mutual aid network to weather the pandemic and support many frontline organizations who support the unhoused and precariously housed; and
- Started a Community Kitchen that cooked 1000 meals per week during the the pandemic and continues to cook 500–600 meals per week for DTES groups, including Aboriginal Front Door, VANDU, WAHRS, Overdose Prevention Society, PACE, Hives for Humanity, and the residents of CRAB Park.
Major highlights include the Neighbourhood Sketchbook Project – a series of low-barrier art workshops, culminating in an exhibition at Gallery Gachet of hand-bound sketchbooks filled with multi-disciplinary visual art – and The Art & Stories of Chinese Seniors in Vancouver’s Chinatown project – a series of low-barrier art and story-telling workshops for Chinese Seniors, culminating in an event where Chinese Seniors shared stories in Cantonese and Mandarin, with English and ASL interpretation, to an audience of 110+.
photo by john endo greenaway