DTES art gallery fundraising for survival with new exhibition

The art gallery largely for people with mental health challenges is struggling for funding after Vancouver Coastal Health cancelled their support earlier this year. They've launched an exhibition fundraiser to tide them over while they find new income.

Vancouver Coastal Health pulled bulk of funding for Gallery Gachet several months ago

Karen Ward (left) and Cecily Nicholson are are upset with VCH for pulling funding for Gallery Gachet, and suggested the health authority doesn't realize the gallery's importance to the DTES. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Gallery Gachet has launched an exhibition fundraiser to tide them over while they find new longer-term sources of support.

The art gallery largely for people with mental health challenges is struggling to find new funding after Vancouver Coastal Health cancelled theirs earlier this year.

For 21 years, VCH was the chief source of funding, but the health authority decided the gallery didn't fit into larger plans for mental health.

"We obviously don't agree with that characterization," Gachet finance director Cecily Nicholson told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn about the idea of Gachet as a stand-alone project.

"Vancouver Coastal Health clearly has not been interested in the work of the gallery for a couple of years now, so the fact that they would construct it that way is not surprising. … We function almost entirely in connection to other community groups and partnerships."

Nicholson says the timeline for losing the funding was "swift" and has left the gallery scrambling to write grant proposals and find new partnerships to make up what is now a funding gap of approximately $132,000 per year.

'A vital community space'

Karen Ward, an artist of the gallery and a resident of the Downtown Eastside, says "short-sighted" is the word that comes to mind.

She says Gachet isn't just an art gallery, but "a vital community space."

"It's difficult to quantify, but the social mission of the gallery is itself life-changing, health-promoting and it makes our community stronger and it makes all of us, with our vulnerabilities … much more resilient," she said.

Ward says when she first encountered the gallery, she was newly diagnosed with a mental illness. She says she had trouble reaching out from her isolation, but when she did, Gachet was one of the first places where she was able to make connections.

"First you step through the door, then you find people who actually share some of your experiences, and that's a very positive thing, especially when you're feeling very isolated and very marginalized," she said.

"And then you realize these people are making art. You're not just sitting around being sick or feeling sick. You're making something. You're creating something. Sometimes that's art; sometimes that's friendship."

Gallery Gachet's In This Together exhibition runs until June 19.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Gallery Gachet fundraising to stay alive after VCH pulls funds