Art confounds so many of the problematics that come with the politics of power and poverty. Take the Hastings Folk Garden, for example. You can’t find it through the Cultural Olympiad. There are no Tourism BC pamphlets that tell you how to get there. You find it by walking around in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown East Side (DTES). In its own very quiet way, it defies the Olympic corporatization of public space and corresponding rendering of this beset community only in terms of a problem to be fixed.
The Downtown East Side is a neighbourhood that was not invited to the Olympic buffet — at least its residents weren’t. As the poorest community in Canada, the Olympic games are largely an unaffordable party that views their neighbourhood as a potential “public relations embarrassment” rather than vibrant albeit troubled home.
What was once an empty lot among the ruin of storefronts along the East Hastings corridor (a few steps from Insite, North America’s only safe injection site), is now a community garden owned by the Portland Hotel Society. And for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the garden has been filled with art to create a little urban oasis with found objects and recycled materials.
The garden was created over the last 300 days largely by DTES resident Jim — who was unavailable to be interviewed on the day that I visited. I spoke briefly with Dominique, one of the artists who helped to make the art garden happen.