Guelph Park exchanges it up

Four-year-old Georgina Mitchell climbed a fence rung Monday afternoon so she could get right inside the Dude Chilling Art Exchange cabinet at Guelph Park. She admired a pair of earrings someone had left on the top shelf and fingered a paper dolphin she'd painted pink and blue at daycare and left at the exchange for someone else.

Her mother, Denise, read a poem aloud.

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"We stop all the time," she said. "It's so cool to see all the different types of things. There were collages. Somebody even put in little homemade clocks that were just made out of boxes."

Cheryl Cheeks loves watching how passersby react to the exchange she unveiled near Guelph Street and East Sixth Avenue in Mount Pleasant in July.

"See, the best part for me is seeing people discover art in the exchange. It just feels like this wild wilderness show," she said from the adjacent bench.

Cheeks was motivated to create the art exchange after the art prints and photographs she'd left disappeared within days from the nearby book exchange at East Tenth Avenue and St. George Street.

She received a $350 Neighbourhood Small Grant from the Vancouver Foundation and agreement from the Brewery Creek Community Garden in Guelph Park to provide a home for the booth, which her father, Peter Waddell, a retired carpenter, built with salvaged, recycled and donated materials. She called upon artists to create pieces for the exchange and stocked the cabinet with art supplies.

Cheeks dubbed the cabinet Dude Chilling Art Exchange as an homage to the Dude Chilling Park sign artist Viktor Briestensky erected in Guelph Park. The sign was later removed.

Cheeks, a writer, editor, voice actor and photographer, volunteered with the defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company and has helped highlight domestic violence. The exchange is her first foray into building a greater sense of community.

"I've had countless amazing conversations with people in the neighbourhood because of this art exchange," she said.

Anyone can leave their own creations or works by others they want to pass on. Half of the artists sign their work and half don't, according to Cheeks.

Artist Olga Bajus stopped at the exchange Monday, unlatched the cabinet's glass doors and peered inside. "It's a great idea and especially because it's free," she said. "It's good just to get that energy going."

Through the exchange Bajus found a book with images she might use for her art and is considering leaving pocket mirrors she fashioned.

Cartoonist Colin Upton visited Monday to see whether anyone had nabbed The Happy Hater comic book he created and left behind an hour earlier. One issue includes a story set in Guelph Park. He showed off the Sean Karemaker print of people lining up outside the nearby Rio Theatre that he'd taken earlier.

Cheeks says hundreds of items have been left and taken within the last three weeks and the only vandalism has been messages about art written in the cabinet, so a guestbook was added to the booth.

Most of the messages thank her for creating the exchange.

"Very nice [sic] I hope no one buggers it up!" reads one.

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