Created by long-time artists and community organizers, WePress is a community artspace in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver, BC, Canada on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓il̓wətaʔł (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The mission of WePress is to offer historic and contemporary methods of print- and art-making, as well as a safe and welcoming space in which to make art, particularly to those who are marginalized by class, sexuality, gender, race, culture, disability, mental health, and addictions. We seek to support Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents and communities to empower themselves, and build community capacity and resilience through art-making.
WePress knows that there are many artists living and working in the DTES who face the challenge of an ongoing shortage of working space, places to sell their work, and access to certain kinds of equipment and the training required to use that equipment. WePress provides access to a 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), an industrial sewing machine, and a 3D printer. We are dedicated to offering low-income and marginalized artists and community members to opportunities for learning new skills and income-generation, while honouring their strengths, knowledge, dreams, and lived experiences.
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 first space at the Sun Wah Centre (268 Keefer Street, Vancouver). Then, on Chinese New Year on February 8, 2016, we opened our doors at #202 – 268 Keefer Street. 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 for our current space at 9 W. Hastings on the ground floor of the Beacon Hotel, which we had agreed to share, and we were able to move in during the Fall of 2017.
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 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. In January 2017, CACV further supported the work of WePress by selling us the letterpress and type collection for $1!
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.
photo by john endo greenaway