March 2010

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm


From its longtime perch over East Hastings Street to its new home in the Museum’s permanent collection, the Blue Eagle Cafe sign tells a fascinating story about both the history of neon in Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside’s long and steady decline.

The Blue Eagle Cafe opened at 130 E. Hastings St. in 1944. It was a simple neighbourhood spot, serving Canadian and Chinese fare in a thriving stretch of downtown. The iconic neon sign would have been added a few years after the opening, as the ongoing Second World War brought restrictions to the availability and use of sheet metal used in neon-sign production.

By the 1950s, the Downtown Eastside was becoming the epicentre of the city’s drug trade and the Blue Eagle would earn a reputation as a place to score heroin. In 1999, the cafe lost its business license as a part of a City Hall crackdown on “problem premises”—and foreshadowing what would happen at the nearby Only Sea Foods (sic) restaurant last year (read our blog post on that unfortunate story here). The cafe became a convenience store; a cheap sign for “R&R Convenience” was erected beneath the cerulean-blue neon.

The old sign remained, awaiting a move into the Pantages Theatre next door. Property owner Marc Williams had put forward a plan to restore the 1908 vaudeville theatre and install the sign in the lobby. When those plans fell through in December, Williams generously offered to donate the sign to the Museum, where it recently arrived. It is now in storage awaiting restoration work that will be done in time for a new neon gallery that will open in the fall of 2011.

The design of the Blue Eagle sign is significant, says Joan Seidl, the museum’s director of collections and exhibitions. “It embodies the history of neon and the challenges to it with neon on the bottom and a plastic sign on top.” She believes the back-lit plastic upper section was added in the 1970s. The sign joins another important piece of Blue Eagle Cafe history. In 2001, the Museum acquired a painted-glass sign that once hung in the front window to obscure sight lines into the long-troubled spot. With this latest acquisition, we’ll keep it from becoming just a memory.

Image credit: John Allison

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm


Our weekly summary of local news and cultural happenings—and a shameless plug for an upcoming MOV program… Read on!

Curtains for the Ridge Theatre? Ian Bailey reports that the historic Ridge Theatre may be on the verge of closing. Owner Leonard Schein says the single-screen cinema model can’t compete with the multiplex. (One wonders how his Park Theatre on Cambie Street is doing. ?) (Globe and Mail)

An Exhibit We Wish We Could Check Out: Next week, Sustainable Futures opens at London’s stellar Design Museum. The show promises to be a smart sampling of the best green designs, products, and the like, all meant to inspire a better way. (Design Museum)

“Forever Punk”: A profile of D.O.A.’s Joey Keithley hit newsstands a couple weeks back, so if you haven’t read it yet, let this serve as the reminder. Really captures the zeitgeist of Vancouver’s punk scene in the 1980s. Best Keithley quote: “D.O.A.’s about causing trouble, being shit disturbers, fomenting revolution. You have to kick the giant—even if it’s only in the toe.” (Vancouver magazine)

End of the line for the Olympic Streetcar: We all knew it was only a temporary thing, funded as it was by Olympic money. Still. The Olympic streetcar line was a beautiful thing. A novelty at only 1 km+ in length (it really is our version of Seattle’s Monorail) but an efficient and needed transit connection between Granville Island and Canada Line’s Olympic station. Though the City has made a multi-million investment to upgrade the existing tracks, it needs $90-million more to make the line permanent. (CBC News at Six)

DIY@MOV2: Our first social-crafting night was a hit, so we’re hosting another on April 9. We’ve worked out the kinks, bumped up the art supplies, and there’ll be another great mini-craft fair for those who’d rather leave the crafting to our city’s many talented pros. Details on our Engagement calendarhere. Happy weekend!

Image credit: Brian Howell for the Globe and Mail

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Not to delve back into the billboard issue—see last week’s blog post on the subject—but I came across this swell image on Flickr and just had to post it. What a sign! What a street. Many thanks to Flickr user lookingatdamascus for the upload. A larger version of the image is linked on their photostream here.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

Every spring and fall, book catalogues start arriving at the Museum—where they are promptly devoured and dog-eared. With so many publishing houses based in Vancouver, there’s never a shortage of new books exploring local topics and ideas and/or written by local writers. Here’s what’s on our spring reading list (so far):

On the eve of his foundation’s 20th anniversary, environmentalist  Dr. David Suzuki has a number of titles coming out with publishing partner Greystone Books. Some are new, some are revised editions, all have a pressing, uplifting, and important call to action. Among them: Declaration of Interdependence, which is based on a pledge he wrote for the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This hardcover edition features incredible art by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Here, his distinctive Haida Manga style is used to interpret world cultures to beautiful, powerful effect. Read an excerpt here.

The blog has been on the contemporary architecture beat lately—I’ll broaden my horizons shortly, promise!—but here’s just one more hit: next month, Douglas & McIntyre publishes A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver, their third book in a series of architectural guides to major Canadian cities. The Vancouver installment is co-authored by Christopher Macdonald, director of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and Veronica Gillies of HOK and the Architectural Institute of B.C., and explores on the city’s built form from 1986 to the present. The book is as well-designed as the buildings it features: pocket-sized and crammed with 200+ photographs and sketches. A perfect souvenir.

The West End’s storied Sylvia Hotel has served as muse to many Vancouver writers, offering respite from the polish of other downtown hotels and a window into the neighbourhood’s past. Poet George Fetherling has just penned a new collection of works about the place and tonight at 6 p.m., he’ll read from it—at The Sylvia, naturally. (The Sylvia Hotel is located at 1154 Gilford St. Call 604-681-9321 for additional details on this free event.)


Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 18, 2010 at 9:59 am


The local news and cultural happenings we followed this week—and what we’re up to this weekend.

Yet another take on cabinets of curiosities. During the four-month run of Ravishing Beasts—our feature exhibit on taxidermy—the blog looked at how the design world is reinterpreting the natural world. You’d be hard-pressed to open a shelter mag these days without finding some reference to this trend, or something about creating off-beat vignettes that go beyond books and vases and into the slightly macabre. An image of Patch NYC’s vignette from the French edition of Marie Claire magazine is pictured left. (Poppytalk)

“Radical Homemakers,” and “Femivores.” In advance of our fall 2010 exhibit on the local food revival, we’re tracking stories from here and elsewhere on the new breed of homemaker—namely, the new generation of people embracing self-sufficiency through gardening, bee keeping, chicken keeping, etc. This week, a New York Times Magazine piece looked at it from a feminist perspective, dubbing the proponents of this new movement “femivores.” Meantime, a just-published book entitled Racial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture,looks at the trend in families and the focus on sustainability. (NY Times and Globe and Mail)

London’s Jewish Museum reopened to the public this week following a £10-million transformation that involved a move to an old piano factory and a tripling of their exhibit space. New interactive displays are designed to take visitors into the daily experiences of Jewish residents, right down to the smells of traditional cooking. (Jewish Museum London)

And a museum closer to home… We love this slideshow of images of a blue whale skeleton being reassembled for the soon-to-open Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC. Can’t wait to see this hanging in their new atrium soon. Look at those vertebrae! (Vancouver Sun)

Vancouver’s oldest school is slated for demolition. On Wednesday, parents, students and teachers gathered to protest plans to level a two-room schoolhouse next to Sir Guy Carleton elementary. The structure was built in 1896 but damaged in a fire in 2006 and has sat empty ever since, awaiting restoration. (Vancouver Sun)

And something to do here this weekend…We’ve blogged about it, tweeted about it, and the night is nearly here. Tomorrow at 7 p.m., we host a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Handmade Nation.” (Click here to be taken to the March 2nd blog post about it.) It promises to be a great event, complete with mini-craft fair by Got Craft? and a reception in our MOV Studio. Be sure to arrive early to view our feature exhibit Art of Craft, which showcases incredible crafts from local, national, and Korean talent. Happy weekend!

Image credit: Poppytalk

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Is it possible Vancouver has taken the wrong approach to billboards all this time?

Since the 1970s, when City Hall restricted the use and location of billboards—notably only a few years after banning new neon signs—Vancouver has waged war on outdoor advertising, seeing it as an affront to public space. A series of amendments passed between 1996 and 2009, brought further restrictions. According to a 2009 City Hall report, “between 2003 and 2008, about 300 billboards were removed largely due to site redevelopment. In the same period, about 35 billboards were added, generally in industrial areas.”

Remember the billboard atop the Lee Building at Main and Broadway? It was removed after a protracted legal battle between the building’s owner and the City that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. (More on the story on; a picture of the now-billboard-free building appears above.)

Recently, the billboard issue resurfaced when the Squamish Nation erected a digital billboard on band land at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge (details here). The sign was a long time coming; planned for years and protested by residents for just as many. Originally, the plan called for 18 billboards to be put up on various reserves and Squamish land around Vancouver, the North Shore, and Squamish. Ultimately, they decided on just six signs in four locations. The dimensions of the signs were scaled back, too.

Other cities take a far harder line on outdoor advertising than we do: West Vancouver prohibits ads on bus shelters; in 2007, São Paolo enacted a Clean City Law, effectively banning all billboards, making pamphleteering in public spaces illegal, and putting new restrictions on the size of storefront signage. According to this story in Adbusters magazine, 70% of São Paolo residents approve of the new measures.

What’s most interesting to us in all this is how extreme people’s reactions are to billboards: loved (”they’re a part of living in a big city”) or loathed (”like driving through a giant Yellow Pages advertising section”). Beloved public squares in Europe are covered in advertising. And what would New York’s Times Square be without their massive, flickering screens? None of this is to say that we’re New York, or that we want to see the kind of concentration of billboards that lines ferry terminals or the island highway between Victoria and Nanaimo, but just how far will we go to create a message-free city? Is there a middle ground between bland and saturated we’ve yet to explore?

In the 1940s and ’50s, downtown Vancouver streets were visually arresting and lined with artful, occasionally garish, neon signs and billboard signs. (Fred Herzog photographed this billboard on Georgia Street in 1968.) Today, it seems we’re less a city to look at than one to look through. So-called “view corridors” direct eyes through glass towers to the water and mountains beyond.

There are some signs of life on the streets, however. The Vancouver Art Gallery is using its exterior walls more and more as exhibit space. Currently, the Georgia Street facade is covered by a hand-painted floral mural by artist Michael Lin. The Robson Square side of the building is running a loop of incredible films that are drawing crowds. The redesign of Granville Street is all about recapturing our lit-up past—albeit carefully—from the lamp standards to the proposed screening space on the Sears building. Would we be willing to trade some outdoor advertising space here to help fund such public events and new public art?

Here’s another idea we find inspiring: in Los Angeles, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture procured 30-day billboard donations and commissioned 21 artists to create new works and effectively “take over what is perhaps one of the most exclusively commercial sites of public architecture we’ve got.” Dwell magazine has an online slideshow of the various works; it’s well worth a look. We think it’s the kind of intelligent thinking that makes a city a vibrant, compelling place, and maybe, just maybe, justifies looking at advertising now and then.

Image credits from top to bottom:

Lee Building from City Caucus
Lucky/Georgia by Fred Herzog, via the Equinox Gallery

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 12, 2010 at 3:33 pm

It occurs to me that I ought to be posting a weekly round up of MOV observations from the week. We’ll call them MOVments. Here’s a first take:

Yet another new downtown neighbourhood? In recent years, Vancouver has gotten neighbourhood-naming crazy. Crosstown. Railtown. Now Midtown? The Cecil strip club will make way for a new condo project that the developers hope will anchor the north end of the Granville Street Bridge. Whatever their hopes, the building, called The Rolston, looks very cool (rendering pictured left). (Globe and Mail)

Traffic is pretty well back to normal (oh, the days when the buses shot down the round-the-clock Olympic Lanes on Hastings Street). But there is this bright spot: the new bike lane on the Dunsmuir viaduct opened this week, the first run led by Mayor Gregor, naturally. (Beyond Robson)

Vancouver’s favourite son actor Seth Rogen is back home shooting “I’m With Cancer,” a film based on the story of his friend Will Reiser. (Lainey Gossip)

A national headline, but not exactly news: Statistics Canada projections indicate Vancouver’s visible minority population will be the majority within two decades, “accounting for 59% of the metro region’s total population… up from a current figure of about 40%.” (Vancouver Sun)

Good news for lovers of independent book stores: some former employees of Duthie Books are planning to opening a new store called Sitka Books and Art. Owner Ria Bleumer hopes the store is as resilient as its namesake. (Quill and Quire)

We get the final word: Tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. the Museum hosts a craft workshop for kids and parents, inspired by our ongoing exhibit Art of Craft. Entitled “Fabric Sandwich,” it’s a how-to collage session led by textile artist Bettina Matzkuhn whose work is featured in the exhibit. Details on the workshop are on our events calendar linked here. Have a great weekend!

Image credit: Rize Alliance Properties Ltd. via Globe and Mail

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Read an fascinating story about the sad state of Winnipeg’s Public Safety Building in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. The modernist building was completed in 1966 as part of a pre-centennial government-building boom—a familiar story to us, sitting as we are in our own centennial-era building.

Today, the Public Safety Building’s limestone facade is crumbling; a grim, wrap-around awning prevents pieces from hitting pedestrians. The building’s occupants, the Winnipeg Police Service, will move out in three years, and after that, who knows? One city councillor says the city is looking at “disposing” of the building unless someone is interested in buying it and taking on the costly exterior repair work. The full story is linked here.

As reporter Patrick White notes, it’s just one of several endangered modernist structures in the prairie city. Winnipeg’s loved and hated airport terminal will be rendered obsolete by a new terminal set to open by the end of 2010. Despite an exhibit of the city’s modernist buildings in 2006—details in an archived CBC article linked here—and a newfound appreciation for modernist architecture in places like AzureDwell, and Metropolis magazines, it remains a hard sell to the masses, who view it as cold, imposing, even authoritarian. But popular or not, buildings like the Public Safety Building represent a important moment in Canada’s history; a time when money flowed for public spaces designed to evoke stability and permanence as a young country turned 100.

The public buildings found in Vanier Park rode that same funding wave. The building that houses the Museum of Vancouver and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre was built in the more decorative New Formalist style and completed in 1968, while buildings erected around us in the following decade, including the Vancouver Archives, the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory, and the Vancouver Academy of Music took on a more spare, brutalist form. Taken together, we form a suburban-style cultural precinct, connected by rolling lawns and parking lots.

Vancouver is perhaps only slightly more reflective of its modernist architecture than Winnipeg, owed to the internationally celebrated work of architects like Arthur Erickson and Ron Thom who practiced from here. It’s hard to imagine a Vancouver City Councillor speaking so candidly of demolishing a modernist building. Whatever the future holds for the PSB, and other buildings like it, we hope there will be some careful debate on its place in the city’s built history. For the record, we think it’s a place worth saving.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm

A couple days ago, I tweeted a link to a blog post written by Frances Bula, the ever-productive urban affairs/Vancouver City Hall writer. Followed for her forward-thinking and pragmatic reporting, Bula proposed three ideas the city should adopt to keep the Olympic vibe alive. Specifically: adding an aboriginal museum downtown; removing red tape around street food and sidewalk cafes, and; coming up with incentives to keep people using public transit like they did these past couple weeks (i.e. free transit attached to event tickets, temporary U-passes, etc). The complete post and the 47 other suggestions it’s spawned to date are linked here.

Whatever the outcomes of all this city-making-from-the-ground talk—and maybe it is just talk—it’s been pretty incredible to see the conversation unfolding everywhere, especially outside the usual circles. This is precisely the kind of citizen engagement that local writer and educator Matt Hern advocates in his just-published book Common Ground in a Liquid City (AK Press 2010). In it, he calls on Vancouver to find a new, organic, participatory way into its future.

Each chapter is based around a city case study. Some of the cities are an entertaining mess (Las Vegas), others admirable (New York, Portland), and all of them compared against Vancouver—make that East Vancouver. (Hern’s blunt analysis—East Van = authentic and noble; Rest of Vancouver = not—will be familiar to his followers.) He advocates strongly for the rejection of the globalizing forces he sees as threatening diversity of “place” and calls for “a thoughtful relocalization of pretty much everything.” The vision calls for steadfast citizen involvement at every turn: “City-building leadership cannot fall to experts, bureaucrats, or planners. People have to make cities by accretion: bit-by-bit, rejecting master plans and letting the place unfold.”

Many of the statements made in the book are contentious, intentionally so. (I would argue that as in New York and Paris, some of Vancouver’s best decisions—particularly those made in recent years—have come from master plans, which Hern is very critical of; see chapter four.) Wherever you sit on these issues, he has pulled together a diverse group of often lesser-known approaches to city life and related them to what’s happening in Vancouver now. “Even in the face of the Olympics, the Gateway Project, and an increasingly brazen corporate governance structure, I think we still have a real chance to remake this city using some compelling, radical urban traditions and examples.” It all makes for fascinating dinner-party fodder (especially his ideas around class divisions here), and can serve as a primer for the brainstorming sessions playing out on places like Frances Bula’s blog. Track down a copy and tell us what you think.

Cover design credit by John Yates for AK Press.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on March 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The Olympic Games may be over, but the Cultural Olympiad continues—now without the complications of capacity crowds (fun as they were!). Starting next weekend, we resume public programs with a series of events relating to Art of Craft, one of the exhibits we’re hosting as part of the Olympiad.

On March 13, there’s a MOV Kids & Family collage workshop hosted by local textile artist Bettina Matzkuhn, whose work is featured in Art of Craft. Participants bring scraps and materials from home; we’ll have sewing supplies. The workshop is free with regular admission and recommended for a range of ages, though parental involvement is required. Further details are found on our Engagement Calendar.

We’ll follow that workshop with a second family program on March 20 that will be hosted by ceramicist Eliza Au, another talented local artist featured in the exhibit. She’ll lead a session transforming cardboard cutouts and shapes into 3D animals. Free with regular admission; details here.

There’s also a screening of “Handmade Nation” coming up on March 19 in our on-site, 200+-seat theatre. (Note: We’ve received a lot of interest in this film and highly recommend buying tickets in advance here.) The 2009 documentary by first-time filmmaker, long-time crafter and gallery owner Faythe Levine captures the sprawling DIY craft movement in 15 American cities. By their very nature, DIYers are a diverse, amorphous lot, but Levine might be considered their leader; The New York Times calls her the Ambassador of Handmade. Her film was three years in the making and resulted in the publication of a book of the same name.

In an interview with Threadbanger workshop—and available here on YouTube—Levine says “Handmade Nation” was inspired by what she saw unfolding around her. Namely: a new generation reclaiming almost-lost handmade arts.

“I really believe that the act of making and the process that goes into making creative decisions is what is at the core of DIY and the importance of the movement. And I think that what everyone has to gain from one another within the community, and what this documentary is really about, is that empowering feeling that you get from making something.”

Image credit: 2 days in the rain