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Art and Anarchy

Downtown Eastside artists give the Cultural Olympiad the middle finger


There are many reasons to hate on the Olympics. Housing promises have been abandoned, the cost of living is rising, and millions of city dollars are being wasted—all for the sake of the 2010 Games.

Gord Hill's "Resist 2010"
Gord Hill's "Resist 2010"

So, if you like art, and want yet another reason to shake a fist at that hideous tooth-shaped Olympic countdown clock, mark your calendars for Friday, March 13. The unlucky night marks the beginning of an underground anti-Olympic art show called Art and Anarchy.

Art and Anarchy is the brainchild of 12 anti-authoritarian artists, who are concerned with the Olympics’ slick marketing and cultural appropriation. The show’s overarching message is pretty clear from its posters, which simply read: “Fuck the Cultural Olympiad.”

In the basement of the historic Tellier Towers (located at 16 East Hastings) Art and Anarchy will be showcasing a radical collection of sculptures, carvings, paintings, jewelry and video art. Pieces by Gord Hill—a well-known carver, illustrator and Olympic resistor—will be on display along with a barricade used during a tent city protest.

The artists, who do not receive any funding for their work, hope to show the Downtown Eastside’s creative community the perils of accepting Olympic money. From the use of aboriginal artwork in Olympic marketing campaigns to the use of state-sponsored art to block out scenes of poverty—Art and Anarchy aims to let local artists know they are being exploited rather than supported.

Street performer and anti-poverty activist David Cunningham is one of many Art and Anarchy members who believe community art in the Downtown Eastside is being used to disguise capitalist plunder. Cunningham has lived and worked in the Downtown Eastside for 10 years, and has avidly spoken against other gentrifying projects such as the Carral Street Greenway.

“We see this style of community art as an aesthetic of social cleansing,” he says. “The only opportunity VANOC has to represent itself in the neighbourhood is to give money to artists. This creates a façade of progressiveness, where they can claim to be investing in the community.”

Cunningham says community art is sometimes used as a physical barrier, to divide and disguise parts of the neighbourhood. “As we move closer to the Olympics, art is being placed over fences. Art is literally being used as walls in the Downtown Eastside.”

“We want to recapture what is now been exploited,” he says.

As part of the week-long show, Cunningham is performing in an interactive play called “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide,” named after a slogan on display above the Del Mar Inn. The largely improvised theatrical production takes place in the West Bar, and demonstrates the eventual damages of gentrification.

“It’s about the last stand in the last bar in the Downtown Eastside,” Cunningham explains. “And the remaining residents have squatted it and are fighting against the powers that be.” The show engages audiences and sends a clear political message about cultural displacement.

While Art and Anarchy is highly critical of Olympic and government funding, Cunningham acknowledges that artists must make a living. “We’re speaking to the artist-run centres in Vancouver,” he says. “There needs to be more transparency.”

“We just want artists to see the strategy behind their funding,” Cunningham concludes. “If you’re going to take the money, recognize there are larger political forces at play.”

To learn more about the artists involved with Art and Anarchy, visit www.artandanarchy.wordpress.com.

Republished in The Dominion March 2009.

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