Gastown: Artisans gather at Woodward’s atrium

When artist Diane Johnston heard other artisans were struggling to make a living, she wanted to help.

This 42-year-old single mother has brought a group of Vancouver artisans together to sell their crafts at a market in Woodward’s atrium. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the space between London Drugs and Nesters Market is buzzing with people selling everything from candles to hand-made dream-catchers.

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Johnston first brought artisans together at Pigeon Park on Carrall Street in 2011. After a year and a half there, Johnston said she “outgrew the space” and felt the need to expand the market.

Discussions with the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association and Westbank, the company that owns the Woodward’s Building, brought Johnston to the atrium at Abbott and Hastings streets.

Johnston, who has supported herself since the age of 15, learned how to make First Nations crafts from an elder when she was 25. Johnston said the challenges she’s had to overcome — as a single-mother with three children — have made her want to help others. She put her own money into purchasing tables, tents and other supplies and looked for sponsors.

“I kept on hearing there’s starving artists out there. I started this [market] to try to change that.”

Johnston is no stranger to the Woodward’s atrium. She used to work for the W2 Media Arts Cafe in the plaza, which closed its doors in December 2012 due to financial troubles.

For Johnston, coordinating the market is a way of continuing the community work that W2 Media Cafe started.

“The artists that I have are within this community,” Johnston said. “I’m giving an opportunity to other artists that have no space, or just like the idea of having this space [in the atrium], to be able to display their arts and crafts,” said Johnston.

The Eastside Artists Company market is now in its eighth month, and will run year-round. It currently has 21 artisans in total, selling items such as medicine bags, dream catchers, jewelry, candles and pottery. It’s a group that Johnston has built over time.

“I’ve been building connections for quite a few years now. I’m well known in the native community because my daughter is First Nations, so I built a lot of relations,” said Johnston. “With that you run into artists that want to jump on board.”

Johnston said she is always looking for more artisans for the market, as the atrium space can accommodate many more stalls.

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