In art-world terms, something unusual is happening Saturday, May 12* in Vancouver.
It’s the opening of SUM Gallery which describes itself as the country’s only permanent space dedicated to exhibiting queer art. It’s on the fourth floor of the Sun Wah Building on Keefer east of Main in Chinatown.
SUM is both a gallery space and the year-round home of the annual Queer Arts Festival of which Holman is also the artistic director.
Programming in the new space will include solo shows, workshops and performances.
“We’re going to continue doing our diverse programming that pushes boundaries and initiates dialogue,” Holman said in a phone interview.
The permanent space gives a curator of the QAF group show the option of choosing an artist or artists for solo exhibitions at SUM. The gallery will also be able to accommodate QAF events that previously would have been held at other venues.
“If we have a group exhibition at the festival, I’ll see artists and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about what you might be able to do in the gallery,’” Holman said.
Historically, explicitly queer art spaces have tended to be transitory.
From 2012 to 2016, Videofag was an alternative arts space in the home of Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis in Toronto’s Kensington neighbourhood.
Also in Toronto is FAG Feminist Art Gallery started in 2010 by Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue. Although its name suggests a permanent space, FAG’s online presence makes it sound more like a two-artist collective project that moves from venue to venue.
In Vancouver, Vancouver Arts and Leisure or VAL is another arts group with a slightly different focus on electronic dance music and club culture. It’s also functioned as a venue for fashion, visual arts and dance but has had to move into several different locations for the past four years. VAL now has a permanent home again at Manitoba and Sixth Avenue
The best known permanent home for queer art, however, is the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. As part of its mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ art, the museum has amassed a collection of 30,000 objects spanning 300 years. In 2006, it moved into a ground floor space in Soho.
From 1999 to 2001, Holman ran Studio Q, an art salon in Vancouver. Ever since that closed, she’s been looking to revive the idea of a queer art venue. Involved in the Pride in Art Society since 2006, she became festival director three years later and then artistic director.
In 2009, Pride in Art organized the first Queer Arts Festival.
The tipping point was the arrival of BC Artscape, the west coast version of the successful Toronto arts organization called Artscape. In 2014, BC Artscape was given $300,000 seed money from the city of Vancouver to start developing creative spaces for arts organizations and artists.
“With (BC) Artscape, everything moved really quickly because they were able to cut the red tape,” Holman said.
BC Artscape’s first big project is the Chinatown Community Cultural Hub in the Sun Wah Centre, the big red brick building on Keefer. Although finished in 1987, the 3rd and 4th floors of the building were never occupied. BC Artscape identified the space and has been able to turn it into permanent homes for a diverse range of arts groups and artist studios. Next door to SUM Gallery, for example, is artist Paul Wong‘s new studio.
SUM Gallery and Pride in Art Society are among the hub’s inaugural tenants.
“Having a home base really changes the whole game,” Holman said.
“It makes us able to do so many more things.”
The gallery is called SUM after the dim sum restaurant that was planned but never opened in the space where the gallery is located. As well, the Chinese characters for the ‘sum’ in ‘dim sum’ mean heart; in Cantonese, the version of Chinese spoken by many of the original immigrants from China to Canada, words referring to queer people includes the same ‘sum’ character.
The gallery logo is ∑. It’s a symbol used in math to designate summation.
QueerSum opens Saturday, May 12 from 2 to 4 pm. The exhibition continues to Saturday, Aug. 18.* The exhibition presents three of Lee‘s films: My Sweet Peony, a drama shot in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden; Portrait of a Girl: A Story of Dance, Sexuality, Adoption and Love, a documentary about Han Dong Qing in Beijing; and Small Pleasures, a period drama set in Barkerville about a Chinese women explaining her bound feet to a European woman and an indigenous woman.
Some of Lee’s other films include: Made in China: The Story of Adopted Chinese Children in Canada, Comrade Dad: Growing Up With a Socialist Father, and Vancouver 1907 Race Riots: Shattered.