Let There Be Art: The Birth of The Dude Chilling Art Exchange

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“Without art,
the crudeness of reality
would make the world unbearable.”

George Bernard Shaw lays it on a little thick, but I’d agree, life without art is one I wouldn’t want to live.

For many of us, art is a powerful part of our lives. We acquire it, make it, cherish it, and sometimes too we move past it.

paintbrushes in cup art painting

Spurred by the latter, a small artistic revolution is  all going down at the “Dude Chilling Art Exchange,” where Vancouver’s Mt. Pleasant locals can now give or take art as they like.

Local art in the park

Last November, headlines were made when local artist Viktor Briestensky spoofed a civic park sign, temporarily changing the little park’s name from “Guelph Park” to “Dude Chilling Park.” The artists said he was inspired by its statues of people reclining.

Now Dude Chilling’s back in the headlines, thanks to my friend Cheryl Cheeks and the inspiration she found in passing a local Little Free Library.

Now famous, Little Free Libraries are all over. It started as an idea by Todd Bell in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he erected a little cabinet styled after a schoolhouse, for housing books, allowing people to  take a book or leave a book as they like.

Found now in 50 states and 40 countries worldwide, Little Free Libraries are a movement embraced far and wide. It was in passing a Vancouver Little Free Library that Cheryl Cheeks was inspired to donate more than just books.

Cheryl explains, “I got the idea shortly after I moved to Mount Pleasant. I did a purge of my belongings as I was unpacking. I wanted to get rid of some books and local art prints, as well as my own photographs. I wandered over to the book exchange and left the books and the art there. I felt like I was sort of breaking the rules, but it would be ok. A few days later, I noticed all [my stuff] was gone. This thrilled me, and the idea for the art exchange was born. If there’s a community desire for a book exchange, then there must be a community desire for an art exchange.”

Dude Chilling Art Exchange Ready for Business-small

Dude Chilling Art Exchange Ready for Business (photo: Chris Kovacs).

And she’s right. It turns out there’s plenty of desire in the artsy hood of Mount Pleasant. Already experiencing trade, the Dude Chilling Art Exchange is  community-sanctioned and will likely be a part of the local scene for some time to come.

“An artist
never really finishes his work,
he merely abandons it.”

                                      Paul Valery

I watched Cheryl chronicle the making of Dude Chilling Art Exchange on her personal Facebook page, and enjoyed being privy to her shock and awe at the big response her little project has generated.

Now taking a well-earned holiday, I like to imagine Cheryl’s enjoying a beer by the beach while daring to daydream about the possibility of communities around the world one day adopting these communal art exchanges.

Community connection, improvement, and beautification tips

Before she left, I asked Cheryl if she could share some tips, in case any of you might consider the idea of improving your community with a Free Art Exchange.

First, she advises that location, location, location is everything, and you really want a spot with a lot of foot and bicycle traffic. It needs to be visible, smack-dab in the middle of things, not stuffed in a corner and hidden from view. Like art, it needs an audience.

Second, don’t just stick something in a park and call it a day. You want it to stay there, right? So you need local powers on your side. Cheryl got crafty and avoided the months and months it can take going through civic process for approval and instead visited a local public gardening organization that already had approval to be in the chosen park. Installed on their parcel of land, there’s no risk Dude Chilling Art Exchange is contravening local by-laws.

Third, make it a greater public good by trying to use salvaged and  used materials. By recycling and repurposing, you’re doing your part for the world, and you’re also keeping your construction costs down. She recommends checking local burn piles and used building supply stores, like ReStore. Dude Chilling was half-made with found products from a burn pile, and the other half were evenly bought new and used. Making your art exchange can, and should, be as creative as endeavor as the art it will one day offer. Enjoy the experience and make it unique.

“What art offers is space,
a certain breathing room
for the spirit.”

                                      John Updike

It’s been a powerful experience for Cheryl, who says “Sometimes I think these feelings must be what it’s like to be a mother. I’ve created something I’m going to release into the wild, and once it’s out there, what happens to it is out of my control.”

But that’s art for you, too.

Community building is easy when you start small

We sometimes convolute what it takes to community-build. Then, along come people like Todd Bell and Cheryl Cheeks, who prove community-building is really as easy as making a cabinet and putting it somewhere for locals to give and receive books or art as they see fit.

Sometimes, it doesn’t take a lot to make the world a better place. Sometimes, it just takes a little free art exchange.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.