The Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective (DEWAC) is a volunteer-run, arts-based organization that serves trans and cis women, two-spirit, and non-bi- nary folks in Vancouver’s Eastside. By organizing biweekly workshops at the Carnegie Community Centre, our goal is to connect and inspire individuals in a non-hierarchical and non-judgmental space, and to build a stronger community through art.
We started DEWAC five years ago in response to service gaps we saw in the community. Although there are several wonderful creative spaces for folks living and working in the Downtown Eastside, few are womxn-centred, or offer publishing opportunities. The Carnegie Community Centre, in particular, is disproportionately male-dominated and, because of this, we felt it was necessary to establish a low-barrier haven that focuses on the creative needs of women and non-binary folks. Beyond providing an artistic outlet for community members, we also wanted to give people the opportunity to showcase their work and build connections with other artists. It is our hope that by cultivating these artistic networks, DEWAC may open up future opportunities and collaborations for our members.
In recent years, we expanded our project to include an annual zine. The Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective (DEWAC) Zine showcases and circulates the visual and written works produced by DEWAC artists and Eastside community members. The work featured is a wide range of dynamic pieces, that capture the diversity of creatives making art in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Each successful submission is awarded $25, and the artists receive free copies of the zine for their own use.
Zine making has thus become an integral part of our work. Since starting our zine, we have learned to appreciate the medium as a multi-faceted tool. Zines provide a low-cost, accessible outlet for people to express their unique opinions, stories, and lived experiences. Moreover, we have seen the way in which self-publishing can bolster the self-esteem of artists, and empower individuals to continue to create.
We always saw zine making as being inherently political. Our first exposure to zines and zine culture was within feminist circles and DIY spaces. Here, self-publishing was inextricably tied to the activism of those who shared similar perspectives to us, and it was used to push a specific political agenda. In Vancouver, zine making continues to be a hugely influential outlet for artists, writers, and advocates, with spaces like Spartacus Books and Lucky’s Comics supporting the work of local zine makers, and community events designed to celebrate self-publishing.
Community zine making and collaborative publishing, in par- ticular, are special processes, because they give individuals equal opportunities to share their own voice. In our experience, zines can be made without having to buy expensive materials, technical acumen, or rent out scarce gallery space. In this way, zine making crosses socioeconomic lines— and allows individuals, regardless of class, education or privilege, to make connections, build community, and share their work with relative ease. Zine making also provides a financial opportunity for artists, without too great of an upfront cost.
Our zine project focuses on the question of how to transcend established art spaces so that everyone has equal opportunity to participate. We want to illuminate the high quality of artwork being produced by women and non-binary artists in the Downtown Eastside. Financial constraints and a lack of opportunity can make it difficult for some DEWAC members to share their work with a wider audience, so our goal is to foster space for this to happen.
Moving forward, our hope is to continue to create opportunities for femme and non-binary artists to share their work through self-publishing. In our view, DEWAC has illuminated the importance of community spaces for creatives, and support- ing artistic networks.
If you have questions about DEWAC, would like to buy a copy of our latest zine, or get involved, please contact us at [email protected]