It has been six months since the debacle at the Waldorf – with the sale of the property, the group that had been providing the cultural programming at the East Van hotel was forced out. Buoyed by an outcry from the cultural community, they vowed to resurface, and in short order formed a new company, Arrival Agency, promising to shake up Vancouver's cultural scene. This summer, with a slate of noteworthy events, these guys have arrived – again.
They land in Kitsilano on Saturday to take the third annual Khatsalano! festival up a cultural notch. Now called the Khatsahlano! Music + Art Festival, this year's event will feature, along with 50 musical performances on 10 stages, an art exhibition that pays homage to the city's modern cultural history, right up to – literally – the present day.
This Happened Here, a series of exhibits installed in 10 wooden moving-container pods, feels very Waldorf on West 4th, building on the sensibility that elevated the East Hastings hotel into a cultural mecca.
One container will screen Stan Fox and Jamie Reid's 1967 documentary What Happened Last Summer, chronicling the hippie scene in Kitsilano. During an interview at the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival, Mr. Fox said he was working at the CBC at the time and uncomfortable with the way the counterculture movement was being portrayed. "The reporting in the papers was so trivial, sensational and totally unbalanced," he said. "I thought someone should take a more responsible look at what was really happening. Because it was a lot more than sandals and beads and drugs."
Another pod features a retrospective of Vancouver animator Marv Newland's work, including his seminal 1969 short, Bambi Meets Godzilla. Elsewhere, sound and video installations will examine Vancouver's punk rock scene, the city's love affair with neon and the impact of Expo '86.
It's curated by Thomas Anselmi, one of the partners in Waldorf Productions and now Arrival, who says that, as he was putting the show together, a theme emerged: an examination of time, memory and "the sense of place of this place."
Vancouver multimedia artist Paul Wong, a key collaborator from the heady Waldorf days – he was an artist-in-residence – will run the On Main Gallery Social Media Art Zone. Here, art will be made by smartphone-carrying citizens in two pods that have essentially been turned into studios, equipped with emoticon backdrops, green screens, and the technology needed to create and upload GIFs, videos and photos to Vine or Instagram and tweet them out, linked by the hashtag #OMGSMAZ. Media artists will be on-site to help. The idea is to create an instant virtual gallery and a document of the day.
"That's another way of experiencing different points of view, re-experiencing being somewhere together, almost instantaneously," Mr. Wong says.
Next weekend marks another big moment for Arrival, as it programs the entertainment for the Vancouver Art Gallery's huge Fuse event on July 19, including a late-night performance. "We're videomapping the rotunda and turning it into a different architectural idea, sort of playing off the neoclassicism of the building," says Mr. Anselmi, who directs the performance, which will also include an opera singer in a nine-metre dress, with modular synthesizer accompaniment.
It's the kind of out-of-the-box (even if literally in a box, at Khatsahlano) approach that made the Waldorf such a cultural focal point – and that will also guide programming at the old Fox Cinema, a former porn theatre that Arrival (with partners) is transforming into a performance space, set to open in the fall.
"That's always been our mission," Mr. Anselmi says. "Bringing cool things to the people, not bringing things to the cool people."
Arrival is now working out of an apartment on Commercial Drive that Mr. Anselmi's parents own. There's a lot of optimism, but still the sting of what happened at the Waldorf. Despite the steep financial troubles Waldorf Productions faced – the principals had sunk a lot of money into the place and had asked for a break on the rent – and their own contact with developers as a possible way to save the struggling business, they say they were blindsided when the owner sold the site to a developer.
But they were also energized by support from cultural figures, ranging from Vancouver-based photo-conceptualist Rodney Graham to U.S. electronic music star Skrillex. "It was deeply meaningful," says Mr. Anselmi, adding that these days he goes out of his way to avoid driving by the hotel. "It was pretty bittersweet, but … it had a sweetness to it, definitely."
Now, Arrival appears to be taking off. There are projects in Kits, downtown at the VAG, and in East Van at the Fox and the Chinese Cultural Centre, where punk pioneers Black Flag will perform next weekend. The city – and not just one hotel – has become their canvas.
"They re-imagined this dead zone, this old retro building, and they made that whole area come alive," Mr. Wong says of the Waldorf. "And now they've re-imagined the city. We want the city. We don't want just a rundown hotel in East Van. Anything is possible."