there’s no room for me here anymore

In False Creek Change,” Vancouver indie group Said the Whale sing about the gentrification of the city, of saying goodbye to a place they once called home:

False Creek changed in ‘86

the year Expo exploited her shore

It’s been twenty-two years laying down bricks

and there’s no room for me here any more, any more

there’s no room for me here anymore


I made my mark in ‘84

Born to the month of June

My home at the heart of Charleson Park

I never thought I’d be leaving so soon, so soon

Never thought I’d be leaving so soon

False Creek condos. View from Granville Island.

False Creek with view of Science World built for Expo ’86

Those are some pictures of False Creek today. With all its seafoam glass condos and precious view corridors, you’d hardly think it was one of the city’s key industrial sites prior to the 1980s when it got cleaned up for Expo. People who could no longer afford to stay, left. There’s no room for me here anymore.

I was reminded of Said the Whale’s song when reading about how the City of Vancouver is pledging to help artists find stable, long-term studio space after a number of them had to vacate a heritage building on 901 Main Street. You can read the article in The Vancouver Sun.

To help provide more space for Vancouver’s 8200 artists, the City has proposed turning two empty, city-owned buildings along Industrial Avenue in False Creek Flats – 251 & 281, into art studios. Together, the buildings comprise over 26 000 square feet.

281 Industrial Avenue. Photo by Jim Carrico.

It’s tough to be an artist in a city where the rent is so expensive. Artists need affordable space to make their art. They need a room of one’s own, to borrow Virginia Woolf’s phrase.

If this proposal goes through, it will make room for a certain kind of people in False Creek again – artists whose creative endeavours are often suited to older, industrial warehouses with their open floor layouts, large windows and high ceilings. Maybe it will welcome back to a place (and home) artists who have new songs to record, pictures to paint, and stories to write about that won’t just be farewell, there’s no room for me here anymore.

A Window Story

Photo by Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver Sun

A woman with broom

cleans the dirt behind the shelves

and the dust off

books she hasn’t read

or written.

She threads her way

between the stacks,

the volumes and tomes

imprinting an education

by osmosis on her

uneducated mind,

so they say.

She cleans the most famous

repository of Western knowledge,

a learned space

a sacred space —

but the spines are blank,

there are unrecognized books in this collection.

She is one of them.

             . . .

I wrote this poem after reading this article in The Vancouver Sun talking about the new public art installation in the windows of SFU’s Woodward Campus. The installation is called The Primary Education of the Autodidact. “Autodidact” means “self-taught.” This two-story exhibit fills the windows of the Audain Gallery and was created by Raqs Media Collective, a 3-person artist group from New Delhi.

I would recommend reading the article and window-gazing at the work yourself if you happen to be in the area. It’s at 149 West Hastings Street in Vancouver.

Raqs Media Collective, The Primary Education of the Autodidact

If I were a teacher getting my students to discuss this textual space, I would ask them to think about the following questions:

  • what does this installation say about the way we learn in Western society?
  • what’s the significance of the art being displayed on the windows of a university?
  • what do the artists challenge in this depiction of an education?
  • what are some ways we “self-learn”? Are we encouraged to do this? What does this even look like – oral means of communicating, or not even with words at all? As I alluded to in my poem, do people recognize – and appreciate – non-traditional methods of knowledge acquiring and sharing?
  • why is the silhouette figure a woman, and presumably ethnic? What type of knowledge does she possess?
  • why are the spines and pages of the books empty? Who writes them?

Last question is for you, my readers: What “books” are you reading? What does your education consist of?