Art by and for the community: Emerge Festival 2019

The Emerge Festival 2019 Group Art Exhibition showcases the variety and depth of talent in the Downtown Eastside

Emerge Festival 2019 poster. Courtesy of DTES Small Arts Grants

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

The Emerge Festival is an annual event that showcases the works of Downtown Eastside (DTES) Small Arts Grants Recipients, an award intended to fund people who might not otherwise have the financial means to elevate their creative needs. I went to their gallery exhibition at BC Artscape Sun Wah Centre on Sunday, located right in the heart of Chinatown. As such, I was excited to see Mandarin and Cantonese interpreters at the gallery to translate the artists’ content. The event was also free, making it clear that to anyone and everyone was welcome. This highlights the driving force and core focus of the Emerge Festival and the DTES Small Arts Grants: the community.

Many works were made on canvas, but some grants recipients chose to express their art through different mediums like crochet knitting or photography. The most common feature in the artist statements was how art was helping these artists heal. This highlighted the importance of the grant to these recipients, which clearly not only enabled artists to buy new materials but empowered artists to continue growing. Other artists were focused on provoking conversation about how homelessness is treated in Vancouver.

Rudolf Penner’s pieces on display at the group exhibition in the Sun Wah Centre June 7-9. Image courtesy of Kelly Chia / The Peak

One such artist that drew my attention was Rudolf Penner, who made the pieces, Another View and What the Hell?. In this second piece, Penner commented on how campers “finding daily harassment by local authorities” have to find creative ways to set up ways to sleep. Beside the piece was a notepad where people could leave their comments for Penner, as well as a handout for the Tenting in Vancouver forum, where people can discuss and brainstorm about these ideas.

Les Kinney’s Redemption on display in the Emerge group exhibition at the Sun Wah Centre June 7-9. Image courtesy of Kelly Chia / The Peak

A conceptually similar piece was Les Kinney’s Redemption. This was a sculpture of two individuals on the floor, holding up a television screen that would display the conditions of the Downtown Eastside. Her artist statement reads, “Each day I go to [my] studio and witness the results of poverty and addiction. Having gone through these issues myself, I felt it was time to do a piece that portrays my emotions and experience in this world.” These pieces were particularly moving, as her sculptures create a real sense of struggle and urgency.

The exhibition gave community members and visitors alike the chance to see and appreciate a variety of local artistic talent. It was a space the encouraged both exploration and connection, leaving me with a long list of artists to keep on my radar. The festival happens yearly, but these artists are creating year-round — you can find the full list participants to support and follow at