In a city colloquially pegged as “No Fun”, cultural spaces and collectives are limited. The city fails to help create permanent spaces for artists and creatives, and demolishes the DIY spaces that do emerge to tackle this issue. This lack of support by the city means artists have to do whatever it takes to display their work, help each other, and sustain a community.
Yet even in these limited creative spaces, they tend to be dominated and run by the same kinds of people, often leaving little room for diversity. The city’s creative community is not immune to the tendencies of societal power structures, and in fact, perpetuates them greatly. And we tend to dismiss artistic communities as inherently progressive without actually understanding issues of exclusivity that exist. The fact of the matter is, young people and non-men are intimidated in these spaces. And it can be almost impossible to engage with when you’re not one of them.
“I’ve always been a creative, and when I first started going to shows I didn’t feel like it was an environment where people like myself were encouraged to engage, unless we knew specific people in the scene. Most of them were older dudes, which was inherently intimidating. And even after making friends with those people, I still didn’t feel supported by them,”
This is not only the reality for Vancouver, but for many cities in North America. Inclusivity should be at our top priority. It has yet to reach that stage, but people are becoming sick of it, and they are mobilizing against it.
“When I was in high school, I decided to go to some venue in Vancouver, and had a terrible experience. There wasn’t anyone I could identify with and I didn’t feel as though any of the dudes there wanted to acknowledge me anyway, unless it was to hook up. I didn’t go back to many shows until I met [Nazlie and Hannah].”
Which is why a group of young, hardworking, and talented creatives decided enough was enough, and took matters into their own hands to create Elastic Collective. Rhi Blossom, 19, Nazlie Najafi, 16, and Hannah Turner, 16, are all co-founders of the collective, that aims to “redistribute financial resources, and space and time in the art scene to marginalized youth.” Their individual experiences as filmmakers and musicians inspired them to construct this support structure, and after only six months since the collective’s inception, they’ve already paved a place in the arts scene with two successful events as a safe, accessible, and radical creative force.
The collective, which is meant to amplify queer and girl voices, showcases the art of young creatives who would otherwise feel intimidated or unwelcome to share in a different space. They provide workshops, performances, and talks by young people for young people. And Blossom believes that is imperative for the scene currently:
“There aren’t many young people filling roles as event producers, curators, who are teenagers doing art shows and self led workshops. It’s almost exclusively adults and often not very accessible. So that was a huge motivation for us to get [Elastic] going,”
This unique space Blossom, Najafi, and Turner have cultivated facilitates conversations previously avoided, such as what it means to be a non-binary creator in a scene that continuously perpetuates the binary, and the difficulties of making art when you’re poor.
What makes Elastic events so special are the connections created through the numerous activities being facilitated. Karaoke, collaging, and a photobooth. The traditional audience and performer balance is subverted and challenged, as everyone who enters the room and engages is automatically a creator, a friend, and a part of the community.
Not only have they received an outpour of support from the general public, but they have received support from local establishments as well. Venues small and big, from Sweet Pup to Fortune Sound Club have lent their space for Elastic events. As Turner states, providing young people and those regularly marginalized in the community with the opportunity to showcase their work at reputable spaces such as Fortune is really empowering. It is empowering to be taken seriously for the first time.
“It’s also really empowering and special for people to show their art or play at a club for the first time ever. ‘Cause, that’s not something that would normally be offered to them. I’m so glad we’re making connections that are not based on knowing people, but based on others coming up to us and saying ‘I love what you guys are doing and I want to be a part of it.’ It’s just great that everyone and anyone can contribute.”
As with any positive space that aims to challenge the norms of a given community, the collective has received their fair share of backlash. I asked why they thought their work has been so controversial:
“The same people who made us feel left out are the ones being intimidated by our success. We’ve made mistakes, we’re still young and we’re still working on it. The events will get better with time and as we learn more.”
Elastic Collective is a non-profit organization that relies on the help of volunteers. They are currently looking for new staff. If you are interested in helping, sponsoring or funding, get in touch with them through their email. Elastic’s next workshop will be held at Spartacus on October 1st. For more info please visit their Instagram.