Vancouver art shop is a window into a community

Downtown Eastside store celebrates one year of helping struggling artists

A Downtown Eastside art shop is celebrating its one-year anniversary of helping open doors - and windows - for artists facing difficulty in that community.

Window Community Art Shop on West Hastings Street turned "one" this week and celebrated with a party. The shop is a non-profit that helps artists in the Downtown Eastside showcase, develop and sell their work.

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The shop sells candles, jewelry, cards, clothing and prints made by the community of artists, which has grown to include 160 people from 35 in the past year.

"I can't believe it's been a year, we've been working so hard," said manager Katie Piasta.

Sri Rodwell, a Downtown Eastside artist, has sold her sewn pieces at the shop over the past year. She started sewing four years ago and now sells items made from mostly recycled fabrics at the shop using items like zippers, jeans, blankets and any other material she can find.

She thinks her best design has been her yoga bag - which is made with a waterproof exterior fabric and recycled blanket interior. "It's Vancouver and it's raining all the time," said Rodwell.

A resident in a B.C. Housing building in the Downtown Eastside, Rodwell said it was tough to find a suitable location to meet clients. With the art shop acting as an office when she needs it, promoting her work has become much easier.

"It's hard because of where I live, I can't meet one-on-one so I had to go to a coffee shop or something," said Rodwell. "If I'm here, I can just meet them [at the art shop] and it looks like an office. It's easier for me here."

Piasta said a big part of the shop is not only being a venue for artists in the area, but also creating jobs that are accessible.

"We have a lot of four-hour shifts that we can give to people who can't work a full eight hours, for people who are just coming back to the workforce who have barriers to employment," said Piasta.

Window Art Shop doesn't take profit from art that they sell. Eighty per cent of sales go back to the artist, while 20 per cent goes towards operating costs and wages for employees at the shop.

One source of job creation is from the store's product line, which is made by people Window has taught to sew. Once they learn those skills well enough, they can be paid to help sew the Window line of tote bags and backpacks - a task Piasta describes as soothing and calming.

"Some of the women who have come in to do the sewing classes, they're so proud of themselves," said Piasta. "They are so happy because it gets their mind off everything they've gone through."

In the past year, Window has nearly doubled its space, adding a large workroom to allow for more artists.

Piasta said that expansion made room for more artists and workers and she hopes the trend continues over the next year.

"Just to keep the store going and keep expanding our line and being able to employ more people is our goal," she said.

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