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Vancouver’s First Friday Art Walk moves into virtual realm

Gazing at artworks on computer screens isn’t ideal, but we’re all learning to adapt and even find silver linings in today’s social distancing measures.

While downtown Vancouver art galleries and studios are all closed to the public due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you can still attend the First Friday Art Walk set for Friday. It’s been reset as a Virtual First Friday, naturally, so you’ll just have to settle back at home with your own glass of wine and internet browser, and let your fingers do the walking rather than your legs.

You’ll be able to view the same new or held-over exhibits you would have seen in person in local galleries — along with some greatest hits and old favorites pulled from local collections. Some galleries and artists will add special content like live video streams and recorded tours, too.

Vancouver’s Downtown Association will act as online hub for the event; visit its website or Facebook page and click through to participating galleries and individual artists. Or just search Facebook and Instagram for #dtvanwa to find the latest updates. The whole thing goes live at 5 p.m. Friday as any normal First Friday event would.

“First Friday is a signature event. It’s an active display of the culture and vibrancy that exist downtown,” said Michael Walker, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “We’re showing that while we’re impacted by COVID-19, we have a sense of normalcy.”

VDA is even hoping that rich online art displays and value-added activities like gallery video streams, tours and artist talks will draw virtual visitors who’ve never attended an actual, physical art walk and maybe never would. Now, everyone can enjoy the art from the safety of their own devices, and perhaps warm up to the idea of walking for real on that future, wished-for First Friday when galleries reopen.

“We’ll have a better platform for people who can’t make it out to First Friday,” Walker said. “This is a good test run on ways we can distribute information in the future. It should encourage newcomers who’ve never been to an art walk before.”

Party on, art lovers

The staff members at downtown Vancouver’s prominent Art at the CAVE gallery said they’re hoping for a real social experience, not just a lot of remote clicks.

“We have great conversations on First Friday and we want that to continue,” said the CAVE’s Sharon Svec. “We hope people will comment and ask questions online.”

“We consider First Friday a party,” said the CAVE’s Anne John. “We have a party once a month. I’m hoping this will feel like a party. I love our First Friday and I miss it.”

The CAVE “is an experimental art space,” Svec said. “What greater experiment is there that taking it online and seeing what comes of it? That’s the joy and fun of art, trying things and not knowing how they’re going to come out in the end.”

Some local galleries haven’t waited for First Friday. Vancouver’s Art on the Boulevard has been posting characteristically comfortable, old-school artworks from its collection — still lifes, landscapes, pastel portraits, photos of small sculptures — on its Facebook page daily since mid-March.

“Despite the gallery being currently closed due to the pandemic,” Art on the Boulevard’s page says with each posting, “we can still fill your daily feed with beautiful art.”

“Art will cheer you up,” says Maria Gonser of Camas’ Attic Gallery as she begins a half-hour video tour of all the current offerings there.

Posting artworks online is nothing new, pointed out the CAVE’s kathi rick, an artist who spells her name in all lower case.

“Some of the great collections are online and highest quality,” she said.

Many great museums and cultural sites all around the world — the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Museum in London, the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City — are now posting free video tours and artworks-of-the-day.

You can usually zoom in and around to examine the artworks in greater detail than you probably could by bending over and squinting in an actual museum, rick said.

“It’s interesting to explore and nitpick,” she said. “I think some of my students who have never even been to the Portland Art Museum will be comfortable doing this.”

Walker added that all participating artists, galleries and Vancouver’s Downtown Association itself will be a little more shameless than usual about promoting art sales during this event.

“Given the current climate, we do want to give artists a better platform to market their art for sale,” he said. “This is a hard time for artists. We want to have a louder voice to help struggling artists sell their art.”

Artists and their customers can make individual arrangements for their transactions, including how the artworks are delivered, whether by mail or at curbside or drop-off locations.

John added that she’s starting to brainstorm an open-to-everyone “Quarantine Art Show” for when this social-distancing episode is over and people can gather downtown again. She’s hoping all galleries will participate, she said.

“There isn’t one person who hasn’t been affected by all this,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of creativity coming out of it.”


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