ARCLines The Origins of the Western Front

Glenn Lewis and Gary Lee Nova at the Knights of Pythias Hall

The Western Front is the oldest existing artist run centre in Vancouver, Canada. It was established in 1973, by eight founding artists who needed space to live and work. The group, comprising friends variously involved in the arts, secured funds from their families and connections to purchase the Knights of Pythias Hall at 303 East 8th Avenue.

In the early years the ‘Western Front Lodge’ was a building that housed the founding members and became a centre for poets, dancers, musicians and visual artists interested in cultural exploration and interdisciplinary practices. During the first years, each of the founding members produced events and programs and took turns hosting and cooking communal dinners. One of these meals was a banquet staged for German Television that served over 100 people, and included performances by founding members Dr. Brute (Eric Metcalfe) and Mr. Peanut (Vincent Trasov). This dinner also marked the first meeting of Metcalfe and Hank Bull, who joined the group of The Western Front and has remained involved in the centre since this time.

The members saw their activities as a break from traditions of the past. They embraced performance and media-based activities in the wake of and amidst other experimental efforts, including Canada’s first artist-run initiative, Intermedia and ongoing concerns like the New Era Social Club, a local live-work studio and production space. These studios and art practices had elsewhere spurred experimentation with forms of art practice that took root outside the market in the context of growing engagements with communications and global network culture.

The founders of The Western Front fostered experimentation and cross-disciplinary practices by investing in equipment and space for art and artists. An integral aspect of this community development was the establishment of a residency program, which provided a place for visiting artists to stay while they produced new commissioned work at The Front. Beyond a live-work space, some members viewed The Front as a place that could play a role in creating a new ‘cultural ecology.’ The name ‘Western Front’ refers to this utopian yearning, alluding to its location at the pioneering front line of art practice and at the western edge of Canada. Though the name has allusions to westerns and perhaps to the war in Vietnam, which was underway at the time of The Front’s founding, the founders chose the name in reference to the Lodge building style and as a place role as a and location of avant-garde art practice.

The Western Front space has evolved over its thirty plus years. Certain facets of the space remain relatively untouched, such as the Grand Luxe Hall, which has been used for intimate performances, readings, lectures, and installations, while other spaces in the building have been transformed to reflect contemporary uses. What was initially the communal dining room, a central gathering spot for hosts and visiting artists later became the Lure of the Sea Bar, and presently functions as Front’s gallery space. Over the past three decades, The Front has been the site of multiple independent programs in New Music, Media, Performance, Visual Arts, and Literature and holds an audiovisual archive and multiple production spaces. The building still maintains apartments, inhabited by founding members or early contributors to the space, adding an element of depth to the Front as a centre that holds a rich history as it continues to be a vital space of contemporary art production.

The Founders

Martin Bartlett
Mo Van Nostrand
Kate Craig
Henry Greenhow
Glenn Lewis
Eric Metcalfe
Michael Morris
Vincent Trasov

First board of directors

Cecil Henry Greenshaw
Glenn Lewis
Catherine Shand Metcalfe (Kate Craig)
Eric Metcalfe
Michael Morris
Maurice Van Hostrand
Martin Bartlett
Vincent Tarasoff

Original Location

303 East 8th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Original Mandate

To promote and encourage the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology.

Available Archives

Western Front paper archives are available through the UBC Library Special Collections. Media archives are housed on site at the Western Front. Documentation of exhibitions have not been digitized but the Western Front has slides and photo albums of events (as well as people hanging out).

Relevant Publications

Keith Wallace and Western Front Society. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Vancouver : Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993.

Contact Western Front

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