Executive director Irwin Oostindie in W2’s new home at Woodward’s, where the community culture hub is set to take up residence in
November May 2011.
Irwin Oostindie reflects on W2's past year on eve of moving into Woodward's
At around this time last year, W2 arrived on Hastings Street as the Woodward’s development entered its final stages of completion. Amidst the din of construction and hasty preparation for the 2010 Olympics, W2 Community Media Arts Society opened the doors to its W2 Culture + Media House in a temporary space at the Perel Building at 112 West Hastings in October 2009.
The multi-disciplinary exhibition space, performance venue and media lab quickly became one of the most exciting new culture hubs in Vancouver. It hosted a diverse array of cultural activities by and for people from all walks of life, from aboriginal youth artists and letterpress enthusiasts to new media pioneers and citizen journalists.
The W2 Real Vancouver Writers and Culture Series in February 2010 drew huge crowds for each of the four weekly events taking place throughout the Olympics. (Image: W2 Real Vancouver Writers and Culture Series)
In April 2010, W2 moved across the street to occupy the space formerly known as the Storyeum underground theatre. Now, after a successful several months hosting art exhibits, parties and salon-type events at the W2 Storyeum, staffers are getting ready to open the new digs inside the Woodward’s building.
Community spaces on the second floor are scheduled to open in November, followed by the new W2 Café in the atrium in
January spring 2011, and finally a basement cross-media lab in February soon after.
'Vancouver wants an accessible, multi-use cultural venue in Gastown'
Executive director Irwin Oostindie has been at the centre of it all since W2’s earliest days seven years ago when W2 was envisioned at the Downtown Eastside's Gallery Gachet. He and administrative director Lianne Payne have presented some of Vancouver’s most ambitious and innovative cultural events of the past year.
The Fresh Media Olympics Conference, the Cheaper Show, Illuminares Lantern Procession, the W2 Real Vancouver Writers and Culture Series, Surge Festival of Urban Digital Culture, New Forms Festival, Canzine West and Homeless Action Week have all held events at W2.
The 2010 Cheaper Show filled the immense, multi-room W2 Storyeum space. (Image: Flickr / Nadia Aly)
“We've been very successful and proving that clearly Vancouver wants an accessible, multi-use cultural venue in Gastown," Oostindie says. "Gastown is seen as the arts and heritage precinct for Vancouver, and yet it has no large assembly spaces."
He hopes that W2 Storyeum and Woodward's locations will continue to operate as culture hubs that bridge longstanding gaps between Vancouver’s east and west sides.
“We're interested in not just the east-west, but east-west as a metaphor for middle-class and low-income people, and the fact that Gastown doesn't need to be one or the other," he says.
“We're probably one of the only community centres in Canada that has redress as a part of our mandate. We're interested in creating a new Vancouver that respects the aboriginal population and East Vancouver, that respects the disproportionately high number of homeless people in our neighbourhood, that deals with the income divide in the local population around our building."
Local artists the dark, Take5, Sensr and Indigo produced the massive 'All Your Walls' mural for the Surge Festival at W2 Storyeum last summer. (Image: Jackie Wong)
The soon-to-be-opened W2 Café will employ Downtown Eastside residents interested in pursuing art careers and using W2's cultural facilities for their work.
“W2 Café will be unique in that we're training and hiring local residents and really committed to serving working-class and middle-class customers,” Oostindie says, adding that the menu prices will be designed with all income levels in mind.
As Gastown’s cultural economy continues to flourish, Oostindie is acutely aware of the homogeneity that can result from letting the market dictate how a neighbourhood grows. He’s passionate about ensuring that W2 will serve diverse communities, not just the so-called cultural creatives who critics fear are gentrifying the Downtown Eastside.
"It's not a neutral space," he says of W2. "But it has specific agendas for social inclusion."
[Updated: 22 Mar 2011]
Jackie Wong is a freelance writer in Vancouver. On weekdays, she can be found working at her kitchen table, which is actually a card table, sitting on a chair she found in an alley. On weekends, she enjoys long breakfasts, bike riding, beers and wandering the city with the one she loves. Portfolio | Twitter | Flickr