In October 2005, a group of foundation-year students at Emily Carr University of Art and Design began to meet once a week with the idea of forming a collective. The students worked across design and visual art practices, and desired a wider, critical context within which to experiment. Their efforts resulted in NOART Artist Collective, a grouping of students mainly from outside of Vancouver, who began planning one-night, non-juried exhibitions called Pacts. These events took place in rooms reserved by the collective at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Pacts involved friends of NOART and other students, as a way to bring about a more public aspect into the students’ developing art practices.
Between 2005 and 2007, NOART held twelve Pacts, featuring a diversity of projects by students who fit more or less into the categories of artists, designers, and critics. NOART was resistant to the disciplinary divisions inherent in the Emily Carr curriculum structure, and particularly wished to encourage fellow design students to show their work in Emily Carr student spaces, including the Concourse gallery. Among the collective’s initial exhibitions over this first two-year period was an exhibition called The Colour Red held in 2007, which explored colour as an element that crossed all disciplines.
Late in 2007 there was a significant shift in the direction of NOART, when a storefront space was found to be available for rent in Chinatown. Around this time, members began to question the collective model, assessing it to be limiting in attracting newcomers to the group. Brian McBay, the initial organizer of NOART’s activities led the group to found a production and exhibition space at 221A East Georgia. The gallery and studios became a critical factor in the development of the collective into a not-for-profit organization. The location gave the students a home base outside of the Emily Carr campus to put on their previously nomadic exhibition projects. A new name, 221A Artist-run Centre, was chosen in order to let the organization grow based on what the space allowed them to do. The name allowed them to modify their direction as much as they wanted, using the marker of place to establish their pared-down presence. The space gave them a directive to take on more ownership and responsibility for contributing something new and different to the cultural community. Incorporated in 2007, it was decided that 221A would focus on exploring cross-disciplinary ties in design and art, in dialogue with their surrounding community. Most immediately, this meant Chinatown.
Shortly after the space was opened, in the summer of 2008, 221A was approached by Keefer Bakery, a neighbour and longtime business in the Chinatown community, with a request to rent out 221A’s newly renovated gallery as a storage site. 221A was and is a predominantly self-funded artist-run space, in need of rental income to operate, and in these early days, to help erase the debt incurred when renovating their new space. The members of 221A agreed to store Moon Cakes on site and close off the gallery for the summer months. What seemed like a potential setback for the organization (being shut over the summer and leading into their first year as potential participants in SWARM) became their first opportunity to expose a critical aspect of their place within the local community. The Moon Cake Show, which opened their first exhibition season, exhibited their gallery-warehouse and addressed the potential of forging a relationship in this place as a new member of an old neighbourhood. This marked the beginning of a dialogue in building a centre where space, objects, art practice and dialogue come into conversation with community.
Sara Bogh Jensen
221A East Georgia Street
First Exhibition at 221A
NOART endeavors to facilitate a cost-free critical community through a variety of medias in exhibition and dialogue.
First Board of Directors (incorporated as 221A in 2007)
An archive of previous programming at 221A can be found on their website.