By Greg Stone
Art is a means for survival.
This is the mantra of Gallery Gachet, located at 88 East Cordova, and for everyone involved with the gallery, this mantra speaks volumes.
Gachet is a unique place. It is one of the few places in the city where local DTES can submit and exhibit their artwork. As their website puts it, “We strive to provide a focal point for dialogue amongst outside/dissident artists”.
Or, as Cara, VCN intern at Gallery Gachet puts it, “Gallery Gachet caters to the mental health community, specifically in the Downtown Eastside, and other marginalized communities. Most of these people are artists, artists who deal with mental health in some way. Maybe not themselves, but in some way.”
Gachet is a place for artists who experience barriers and who have trouble getting into most galleries, to exhibit their art in a gallery setting.
On top of focussing on experimental and installation pieces, Gallery Gachet is a collectively-run art exhibition space that encourages participation on all levels of the art-exhibiting process.
“The members are very much involved in the day-to-day functioning of the organization”, says Cara.
The Gachet community is made up of collective members, associate members, and volunteers. Everyone helps on all levels, from setting up and taking down shows, to preparing food, to helping with promotions.
Exhibitions change regularly at Gachet, with each show exhibiting for about a month and a half each. There is a huge demand for space at Gachet; the gallery is already completely booked for 2014. There is a lot more art coming out of the Downtown Eastside than there is space to exhibit it.
But Gachet doesn’t just do art. They also organize community events, like a scavenger hunt a few weeks ago. And, as a part of VCN’s never-ending fight against the digital divide, Cara has been hosting a series of computer workshops at VCN aimed at improving computer skills of the workshop clients.
“I’m running two workshops per week, every week, until January”, says Cara. “I started with Photoshop workshops two weeks ago, and it was a lot of fun, a lot of people came out”. Other workshops will focus on a broad range of skills, including Gmail, using projectors, and basic internet skills.
“The workshops cater to the interests of the clients”, says Cara, “So I did a survey to find out their main interests as far as computer skills”.
A lot of the clients for the workshops are Gachet volunteers and members, but many of them have been bringing friends, and the workshops are open to anyone.
One of those people is Mary O’Toole. Mary has been attending Cara’s workshops where she has learned some very valuable skills. “I wanted to learn some programs for a hobby”, says Mary. “I have 5000 old family photos and 500 slides that I’ve been touching up”. Through Cara’s workshops, Mary has been learning her way around Photoshop, getting tips on how to touch-up her old family photos to complete this massive project.
“When I’m done, I want to share the photos with the rest of my family. I also have some old love letters between my grandparents. I’m thinking about giving a copy of everything to the National Archives in Ottawa when I’m done.”
I asked Mary if she was an artist herself. “Just write that I take art lessons”, she replied.
Mary is thinking about eventually turning her new Photoshop skills into a sideline job, “Oh yeah. People send me photos all the time to be touched up”.
No stranger to Gachet, Mary has been a volunteer there since 2005.
Art is a means for survival. For Mary, this means the survival of her family’s photos and memories. And for most of Gachet’s artists, this means having a space for self-expression.