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Massy Books launches a community-focused arts society 

From Rydel Cerezo’s photo exhibition To Be From The Same Tree

Since opening in June 2017, Vancouver’s Massy Books has established itself as a champion of LGBTQ2S+ writers, along with Black, Indigenous, and other authors of colour. But owner Patricia Massy had a broader vision to support communities beyond the shelves of her two-storey Chinatown shop. In July, she announced the launch of the registered non-profit Massy Arts Society.

In addition to curated monthly art exhibitions on the store’s second floor, the newly formed society will work with authors, publishers, and community groups to organize events. Massy is currently seeking partnerships and funding for future public art and multi-site artistic projects.

Massy Books is part of a growing movement of bookstore owners connecting their businesses to a broader social purpose. Toronto’s A Different Booklist, for example, is also home to a non-profit cultural centre that hosts author talks, children’s programs, and art exhibitions, among other endeavours. In a 2019 New York Times interview that carries even more resonance because of COVID-19, Harvard Business School assistant professor Ryan Raffaelli spoke to the trend: “As more people spend more time online, they are looking for deeper ways to spend time with the community. Independent bookstores have become anchors of authenticity. This is almost like a social movement.”

Emily Dundas Oke is Massy Arts Society’s curator and media manager, while Massy is responsible for guiding the project’s overall direction. The two spoke to Q&Q about future plans for the non-profit.

Was the Massy Arts Society affected by COVID?
Massy Arts was always conceived as a society that would take place across a number of sites, so COVID has really pushed us to deeply consider what that means. We are very pleased we are now able to have exhibitions in the gallery space above Massy Books after the bookstore was closed during the first two months of COVID being present in B.C. We are working with a suite of artists and collectives who are using ingenuity, inventiveness, and care to develop programs that make sense in our current isolation. Our work is centred on relationship building and highlighting emerging practices, and more than ever we realize how central and necessary these are.

Can you describe the society’s origins?
Massy Arts is dedicated to creating diverse platforms for creative and emerging practices. We recognize the centrality of artistic and literary practices in building rich political and social communities. We seek to centre artists, projects, and writers that may be overlooked by preexisting structures in an effort to create a space that is fluid, responsive, and community centred.

Massy Arts comes from Patricia Massy’s inspiration to establish her own not-for-profit with long-term goals of uplifting the voices and creative practices of underrepresented artists, authors, and creatives. Patricia is dedicated to ensuring artists are fairly compensated for their work, and strongly believes art and books connect us to our humanity. After 17 years of working at various bookstores and non-profits, she established the Indigenous-owned and operated Massy Books, which has become a hub for the community, hosting and participating in more than 280 events in its three-year history. Massy Arts seeks to expand on this intensely active history through partnerships and artist-led initiatives.

What are some of your plans?
We are thrilled to have launched the Open Book Art Collective’s exhibition Away for the month of July. The show responds to Jane Urquhart’s 1993 novel. The artists respond to the poetic and cyclical storytelling found in the novel, weaving personal narratives of displacement through mixed-media works. As such, the exhibition provides a non-linear entry into the expansiveness of Canada’s history and the present-day manifestations of this multi-vocal history. Eight local artists seriously engage with personal histories of displacement, and how the retelling of these histories intersect with embodied knowledge, cultural conceptions of time, and emotive responses to displacement. This unique way of working complements Massy’s vision to use literature and art to interrogate our relationship to place.

In August we welcome Rydel Cerezo’s exhibition To Be From The Same Tree, curated by Angie Rico as part of the Capture Photography Festival. Cerezo is a Filipino-born artist residing in Vancouver who thinks about the intricacies of personal, political, and imperial histories. Exhibitions like this one exemplify how we strive to achieve our vision: highlighting critically rigorous work developed through partnership.

Some long-term projects include multimedia public art installations and continued collaboration with the Indigenous Brilliance Reading & Performance Series, which is a partnership between Massy Books and Room magazine.

Were there other models that you looked to?
Emily was strongly inspired by the Indigenous-led Ociciwan Collective’s model and history. They affirm their commitments to the community and are a values-led organization that fosters collaboration. Witnessing their curatorial and collective approach has established a strong source of inspiration for us.

Patricia and Emily are co-curators of the Indigenous Brilliance series, founded by Patricia and prairie-born Métis/Icelandic poet Jónína Kirton. Many of the values that anchor Indigenous Brilliance have been brought into Massy Arts Society. We hope to continue broadening the circle and leveraging our platforms to uplift the voices of storytellers.