WePress: Community Makerspace gets hands-on in the Downtown Eastside
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon I wandered into the Sun Wah Centre, a mini-mall next door to Hon’s, in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I’d heard rumours of a working letterpress and other hands-on technologies being employed in the name of community engagement and wanted to see for myself what was going on. I made my way up to the 2nd floor, where I found the WePress headquarters, sitting opposite the Dollar Store in the back corner area of the west wing.
The first thing I encountered in the small bustling space was a 3D printer, working methodically away at creating the headstock of a ukulele. It was my first time seeing one of these printers in action and Candie Tanaka cheerfully explained the principles behind it, before demonstrating the 3D-printed recorder that she’d recently made.
In another corner, Kathy Shimizu and Cara Seccafien were busy reassembling an old letterpress machine so they could demonstrate printmaking for the open house.
Having toiled in the printed trade for many years when I was younger it was fascinating to see these two technologies employed side-by-side – one a throwback to an earlier time and the other only a few years old and still-evolving. To my eyes, WePress reflects a new way of looking at the creative process, where new technologies and old are embraced and digital and analog coexist happily.
The six-member WePress collective is made up of Candie Tanaka, Cara Seccafien, Kathy Shimizu, Michèle Smith, Linda Uyehara Hoffman, and Michael Clague. Through the digital medium of email they shared with me the very analog process that led to the creation of WePress.
Bulletin Interview: WePress
Candie Tanaka, Cara Seccafien, Kathy Shimizu, Michèle Smith, Linda Uyehara Hoffman, Michael Clague
WePress is a pop-up retail social enterprise community makerspace that provides access to equipment and training for everyone, especially DTES residents and organizations, for artistic development and capacity building.
Where did the idea for WePress come from?
WePress started as the Ho Sun Hing Project, a large group of diverse people who came together in late autumn 2013 to raise money to purchase a set of Chinese type (over 8000 characters) from the Ho Sun Hing Print Shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown, which was closing down after more than 100 years of operation. The project gradually transformed when the old Woodwards letterpress and type collection, owned by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV), became available but needed a new home. Throughout 2014 and 2015, a small subset of the original group continued to meet and make plans. We found temporary storage for the letterpress and type, and kept the project alive. The real game-changer came when Candie wrote a successful Vancouver Foundation grant and found our current space.
The name “WePress” emerged from a conversation between Francis Freeman and Candie over noodles in Chinatown when one misunderstood what the other was saying. Both agreed the new name suited the space and took it back to the group for consensus.
We wanted to combine old and new technologies. We had the letterpress on loan from CACV as well as a lead on an industrial sewing machine. Candie had been using 3D printing technology and had prior experience setting up a makerspace through her work at the Richmond Public Library. So in the end, these three technologies emerged as the basis for a new entity called WePress.
How is WePress structured?
Currently, WePress is run by the collective as an ad-hoc group, but we are still working out the ‘official structure’ as we continue to develop our plans. We are running workshops as the main way for people to learn how to use the equipment, create work in the space, and get involved. The workshops are being run by the WePress collective and by artists with skills in many different areas, from printmaking to knitting to millinery to Virtual Reality Technology to 3D Printing. We are generally open on Sundays from 10am to 5pm, and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 5pm, as well as some Saturdays. However, it’s best to check our website for details. You can also visit the space by appointment by contacting us at WePressVancouver@gmail.com
WePress knows that there are many artists living and working in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) who face the challenge of an ongoing shortage of working space as well as access to certain kinds of equipment and the training required to use that equipment. We want to create and develop a safe, accessible, affordable, and self-sustainable makerspace in the DTES that will welcome diverse populations, including those marginalized by class, sexuality, gender, race, culture, disability, mental health, and addictions. In particular, the letterpress and the type (wood, polymer, and metal) are usually only accessible through expensive courses and, even then, only for minimal amounts of time. We hope that WePress will help change this situation for artists in the community.
What needs to happen for WePress to survive?
Although we have our rent covered until July 2016, we are working on a longer-term sustainability plan. We are writing grants, running workshops, and will need to do some major fundraising in order to keep our space going. For those who would like to support WePress, you can make donations online through WePress.ca or by mailing a cheque written to WePress to #202 – 268 Keefer Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 1X5.
How do folks get involved?
We are asking supporters to be become members for only $5. If you are interested in taking or running a workshop, and/or volunteering for WePress, please contact us at WePressVancouver@gmail.com. We also have lots of news and information on our website at wepress.ca, and on our social media accounts: