In 1991, a small group of graduate students from UBC and one local artist got together when the opportunity to take up a space and turn it into a gallery was offered to them by David Husby. At the time Husby, a local soundman working in film, rented several rooms as a studio at 448 Seymour Street, on the second floor of an old office building. Scott McBride, a recent graduate of the University of Victoria (UVIC), and his roommate Owen Sopotiuk, who had recently finished his undergraduate degree at UVIC and was entering the MFA program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), were joined by Deanne Achong, Donna Neild and Marlene Weston, forming the first board of Access Gallery. The young artists, with some skill and experience among them, renovated two existing rooms, appropriating about 1000 square feet of hallway and studio space to create a large entryway and a two-room gallery. Their act of subversive hallway appropriation went unchallenged (or unnoticed) by the building’s other tenants, possible because unbeknown to them, the building, which was owned by a Hong Kong based investor, was slated for demolition.
A small fund to renovate the space into a gallery was procured from the President’s Allocation Committee at UBC, with the support of professors and advisers. With this allotment an agreement was made that for the first year, UBC students would be shown in the gallery space. The first exhibition presented work by BFA students from UBC, and the second, building upon the connections of McBride and Sopotiuk, was an exchange show between art students at UVIC and UBC.
The earliest exhibitions held included work by artists (mainly students) who got involved with Access. Participation on the board and planning for the space supported the gallery operations, and each member paid $60 a month to have a voice in the direction of the gallery, a fee that paid the rent.
When notices of eviction were served in 1993, the gallery was relocated to 134 West Hastings Street. The space, a former after-hours club and shooting gallery in the Downtown Eastside, required much renovation, all of which was undertaken by the artists themselves. A plan was formed to incorporate studios in the back two thirds of the space, with a gallery in the front. This contributed to excitement in the space, and the larger effort to build a community for younger artists (as well as help pay the rent).
By 1994 Access produced nine exhibitions from September to May, with programming that began to move away from exhibitions by those who ran the space. The art exhibited was predominantly regional, artists mainly at the beginning of their careers or by those who had recently graduated from school. Included among them were Myfanwy McLoed, Damian Moppett and Kelly Wood.
Despite being new to the scene, those behind Access were committed to professional support for artists. They put forth invitations and press releases, and began to pursue ties with international artists. Their exchange shows began to focus on art from abroad, bringing artists from Europe as well as from other regional communities into their space. Access also ran a seminar series, with formal artist lectures and informal group discussions that would take place about a week after the opening of each exhibition.
In these first years, the gallery informally focused on sculpture, and the organizers saw themselves as contributing to, but outside the parameters of the existing artist-run community, which included nearby galleries such as Or and Artspeak (both also located on Hastings Street at this time), as well as short-lived spaces like Sans Air Gallery and the Perel Gallery. Access had very little funding coming from any sources other than what was generated through beer sales, studio rentals, and what came from their own pockets. Although they were incorporated, they were resistant to government funding and the strings that are attached to it.
The gallery was maintained for several years without operating funds from granting agencies, all the while growing in connection to other Vancouver art spaces. As Access was tied into larger community efforts such as citywide exhibition programs New Art From Cuba: Utopian Territories (work focusing on Cuban artists) and War Zones they found it finally necessary to pursue stable funding through grants. After their third move, the last remaining founder to be involved, Scott McBride, stepped away from the gallery and left the space in the care of those who would build it up next.
First Board of Directors
UBC BFA Group Show
1992 – 448 Seymour Street, Suite 26
1993 – 134 West Hastings Street
1999 – 206 Carrall Street
2010 – 437 West Hastings Street
Access Gallery is an artist-run space whose name provides insight into its mandate: to provide an opportunity for artists and students to show works and to be open to showing works from a multidisciplinary range of production.
The exhibition space is comprised of two areas; one more traditional gallery format, the other a slightly funkier space. It is a space run by four students enrolled in the M.F.A. program at UBC as well as by a local Vancouver artist.
Access Gallery has an online archive that can be accessed through browsing or searching. There is an in-gallery archive that can be accessed by the public by request.