Vaelei Walkden-Brown, owner of the 557 Artist Block, is closing the doors to the venue and gallery this fall, but she said it’s not an ending, only an evolution.
She never expected to be running an art gallery/live music venue.
Originally from Edmonton, Walkden-Brown came to Penticton for a holiday to visit her parents after a 20-year stint in Perth, Australia working at creating her own interior design business.
“And I didn’t leave,” Walkden-Brown said.
She initially wanted to showcase design work, but it turned out more artists in Penticton were in need of a space.
“I only wanted to run it as a pop-up shop for one month,” Walkden-Brown said. “Yet, here we are.”
She was happy to get support, whether it be from local artists, or the likes of Penticton Art Gallery curator Paul Crawford who helped bring musical acts like Oliver Swain and Rae Spoon to the venue, or simply those who showed up to shows and helped with different projects. The transformation into a live music venue was an easy, but unexpected one.
“That just came about from people coming in and saying ‘this place would have great sound.’ Then it started to be a good way to get people into the shop and make enough money to cover rent,” Walkden-Brown said.
While it is difficult to say goodbye to the space that she has occupied since July 2015, the silver lining for Walkden-Brown is the support she received from the community.
“I want to thank all the people who supported me. It’s humbling and it’s very encouraging at the same time that people got behind it. People who came to the gigs, the work of the artists, the volunteers especially because I have a really loyal volunteer base which is amazing — as well as the Downtown Penticton Association,” Walkden-Brown said.
Peaches Lingerie owner Christina Conquergood is taking over the space expanding her operation.
“It’s something she’s been thinking about for awhile,” Walkden-Brown said. “She was a really amazing landlady. She was really accommodating and flexible with things and I appreciate that. I think she has an understanding of being a small business owner.”
Walkden-Brown hopes to continue having the 557 Artist Block appear with pop-up events and locations around Penticton, reducing some of the stresses that come with overhead and rent, while continuing to provide Penticton access to unique arts and entertainment.
“A vibrant city should have a vibrant downtown, so I want to continue working with the Downtown Penticton Association,” Walkden-Brown said. “I think the arts will continue to have a growing presence and impact in the city and I want to be part of that.”
The Artist Block is planning a closing party Oct. 1.
“It’s not ending it’s just going to change,” Walkden-Brown said.
Those looking to still support the Artist Block and local artists Walkden-Brown invites to check out the work hanging in the gallery with art remaining for sale until the fall.