An empty retail space in Penticton’s downtown will soon serve as a launch pad for emerging artists.
After taking part in the success of a similar project out of Perth, Australia, Vaelie Walkden-Brown is preparing to set the 557 Artist Block in motion.
“I’m excited to show people the multiplicity of the project,” she said. “You can come here to learn things; arts and crafts workshops, health and wellness lectures, and hear live music.”
The idea came to her at the end of a 20-year stint living in Australia – where she studied interior architecture. Walkden-Brown was born and raised in Edmonton, where her parents continued residing until they relocated to Penticton one year ago.
“I couldn’t even think about coming from Australia to visit Edmonton,” she said. “But once they moved to Penticton, I said, ‘OK I’m going to come home for the summer.’”
One summer in Penticton wasn’t enough however, and Walkden-Brown decided to move back to Canada.
“Last summer when I came to the Okanagan, I fell in love with it – and I don’t miss the beach because I live right by Okanagan Lake,” she said. “There’s a really strong creative energy in Pentcton. I’m meeting so many artists, makers, and designers that are really passionate about living here and creating beautiful things.”
And she hopes to recruit those members of the creative community as featured artists at the 557 Artist Block, similar to how she gained experience as a designer in Perth.
After the closure of a multilevelled department store in Perth, two architects saw potential in the building, and found a way to connect artists in need with the empty space. One floor is used to sell creative retail, and the other floor to produce it. The project was only due to last for a few months, but was extended indefinitely upon its success.
“I took inspiration from that on this project, just on a smaller scale,” she said. “It allows people to come and not just buy stuff, but they can come to hang out, look at art, and meet the people who make it.”
She hopes that the outlet’s location on Main Street will expand upon the nearby culture.
“There are lots of really good shops and cafés, places people like to spend their time.”
Inside of the building, the shop is well-positioned to catch natural light, with many large south-facing windows and a skylight in the middle of the ceiling.
“As an interior designer I’m obsessed with light.”
Walkden-Brown hopes to build a really strong identity for the 557 Artist Block, but will keep the surroundings neutral, “so that those who contribute their art, their art will be the colour of the space.”
Beside the main entrance, the building also offers a courtyard, which will be able to offer live music, yoga sessions, and Qigong classes – and once she’s laid the groundwork, Walkden-Brown plans to begin offering a cafe-style menu.
Within the first month of its opening, there will be a Pecha Kucha event; a Japanese-style architectural show, which features several artists and designers who share 20 slides of their work, and speak about them each for 20 seconds.
Among the many people supporting her venture is Paul Crawford, curator of the Penticton Art Gallery. He believes that there’s more than enough room in Penticton for such a gallery. There are more active artists now than ever before in history, though he said that it seems like there were more galleries in the past.
“There are a ton of great artists in the Okanagan Valley, but not necessarily a whole lot of places for them to show their work.”
Walkden-Brown has been actively seeking out local artists through Instagram, where she can be found under the username _haptic_.
Anybody that would like to volunteer, and artists (especially fashion designers) interested in becoming involved can contact Walkden-Brown at 587-988-8567, or email@example.com.
“Even people who just want to slap some paint on the walls.”