Art/Work: An Exploration of And-Co’s Art Curation Philosophy 

August 25, 2023

The interplay between art, community, and work is profound. That’s why art is in And-Co’s DNA.

We spoke with Ashlee Conery, Curator & Cultural Programmer at And-Co, about: 

  • Why art is an essential component of our workspace
  • The impacts of art in a professional environment
  • The philosophy and curatorial process behind selecting the works on exhibit at And-Co
  • The artists featured at And-Co

How would you describe the impact of art in a professional environment?

“Embodiments of Love” by Ghislain Brown-Kossi

Ashlee: One of art’s greatest strengths is its subtle ability to teach appreciation for something we may not fully understand. When we are able to spend time with art in passive ways, as part of our working lives, we develop a sense of familiarity with it. 

With that familiarity, we often discover our ability to accept and even enjoy things that may, at first, seem anomalous, intimidating, or inaccessible. 

Just like with a new coworker, through time spent working side by side, we may come to recognize skill, complexity, or the way they replace banality with interest in what we don’t know. 

I have seen the relationship between people and art grow from a feeling as simple as being thankful for the colour it adds to a space or, for no explainable reason, how it makes the chair next to it cozier. 

Art can help us become comfortable with being uncomfortable—and through that experience teach potentially one of the most valuable skills we can cultivate as entrepreneurs, leaders, or teams. 

When And-Co opened in March 2022 many people spoke including Elder Becky Baker from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw. Baker gave an incredible teaching of language terms and histories, as over 100 of us stood in And-Co’s Community Forum—a space designed by the same architects behind NeueHouse, New York. 

As you enter the Forum, you face a wall on which we have been fortunate enough to exhibit Dana Claxton’s NDN Ironworkers (warrior of…),(2018). This is one of three works on exhibit at And-Co by Claxton, a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nations. NDN Ironworkers is one of a seminal series of Fireboxes that re-brands the well-known Lightbox format of Vancouver School photographer Jeff Wall. Claxton maintains the monumentalism Wall introduced with this medium, however, removing any sense of voyeurism while focusing on the subject of Indigenous Ironworkers. Ironwork is fundamental to Vancouver’s steel and glass skyline. And the relentless development of these unceded and ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaʔ, has depended on generations of First Nations ironworkers. 

The Firebox in An-Co’s Forum features a single professional whose back is turned toward us. This gesture refuses our gaze, while the scale of the piece (almost 8 feet) makes him a towering figure, kitted out with the tools of his trade. It is meaningful for this image to sit in the context of And-Co, a co-working space built by local developers Arpeg & Bosa, that also houses companies that range from investors to tech innovators; while many of the settler-founded companies in Vancouver talk about acknowledging inequity, Indigenous histories, or the development of unceded territories, few are willing to centre an image of it in the heart of their building. 

What I like is that And-Co makes it easy for all its Members to give back to their local arts community as well as support local non-profits and artist residencies. Because these things are built right into our ecosystem, that uses a portion of all office rental fees to pay artists for exhibiting their work and provide space to local not-for-profits & charities. You rent a desk here and you are supporting arts and culture—it’s as simple as that!

Why was it so important for And-Co to thoughtfully curate art to feature in the space?

“A Whisper Away” by Mike Alexander, Thundercloud Designs

By having a rotating exhibition program on every floor of And-Co, the space feels alive rather than stagnant; it’s in conversation with you, offering up new ideas and perspectives through the many artists it’s able to support. 

One of the reasons other office spaces are failing to keep up with teams is that they don’t reflect the demands being made on staff to think creatively and build balance for clients. 

In order to really think about equity and diversity, build wellness brands, or get to out-of-box thinking, you have to also be experiencing those things. 

And landscape posters with lighting that is literally sucking the energy from employees is just not going to cut it. 

When a space becomes as creative as the people within it, they give and take energy from each other.

And-Co is striving to become an intersection of entrepreneurship, investment, technology, arts, and culture. I really believe that conversation between these actors becomes more possible when they work within the same space.

Can you share a bit about your background and your role in curating the works featured at And-Co?

"Lasso" by Dana Claxton
“Lasso” by Dana Claxton

I came to And-Co through my friend and colleague Stephanie Bokenfohr, the Coordinator of Adult Public Programs at the Vancouver Art Gallery. We worked together for several years when I was the Curator of Art Interpretation at the VAG. 

During the pandemic, Stephanie was presented with this project while And-Co was still under construction and invited me to join. Bokenfohr came to Vancouver from New York where she had experienced NeueHouse programming firsthand while working as Biennial Hub Manager for PERFORMA. 

For And-Co, we co-curated the first installation of art and the opening event which included performances by ebonEmpress, Kore Kase, and Lucien & Bess Durey. 

Though I was lucky enough to be born and raised on these unceded and ancestral territories of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples, I spent a decade working in Europe before returning to Vancouver to join the VAG. 

I am a member of FormContent (London + Vienna), was an Assistant Curator at ICA London (UK), Curator of the Florence Trust (UK), and have curated exhibitions for Pi Artworks Istanbul & Nuit Blanche (Paris).  

With the support of museums and galleries across the country, I am also currently the creator of CubeCommons, a Canada Council for the Arts, Digital Strategy Funded project, to develop a DAO and streaming platform to aggregate the educational materials produced by arts organizations and artists living and working on Northern Turtle Island (Canada). 

I’ve been fortunate as a Curator and Web Developer to work in six countries on exhibitions, private collections, community outreach, research, and public engagement. My projects have spanned physical and digital spaces with artists and audiences often using technology to co-produce art interpretation, constellations, or disrupt curatorial conventions. 

For me, And-Co is another opportunity in a lifelong practice of exploring what comes from the intersection of different knowledges with creative practices. 

Can you please describe the curation process and philosophy for the artwork at And-Co?

“Fragola per la Farfallina” by Jessie McNeil

The curation process is simple. As much as possible, we try to support local. 

However, we believe Vancouver is an international city and the conversations we are having should be in dialogue with the conversations being had globally. 

If an opportunity presents itself to show artwork that speaks to mental health, the DTES, Indigenous Sovereignty, Futurism, Cultural, Queer, Trans, or Non-Binary perspective, we take it! 

We show both leaders in art as well as artists who have almost never exhibited before or whose practice grew out of retirement. 

There are very few limits to what we will exhibit, though I acknowledge that whatever bias exists is held within me, despite my best efforts to look beyond my own tastes. 

And-Co is working toward becoming a tech hub for innovation. Coming from this space, I am also dedicated to showing new media and screen-based works including NFTs and video art. 

We have hosted NFT BC, Hackathons, as well as screenings and script readings—all things I look forward to doing more of.  

Beyond simply showcasing them and their work, how else does And-Co support the artists featured in the space? 

“Patois” by Tafui

And-Co’s art program is unique in Vancouver for two reasons. We are the only private office and executive desk rental space that uses a portion of monthly fees to directly support local artists and cultural organizations.

What makes our support unique is that we are giving space to non-profit organizations to develop community in their own way and, in the case of organizations like Indigenous Fashion Week, to grow their capacity and their supporters among a business community they have not previously had access to.  

For artists, we are also the only cash program for exhibitions outside of gallery spaces in Vancouver. 

What this means is that every artist who shows work at And-Co gets the same exhibition fee. We are not commissioning works to fit our brand or our vision of art. There are hundreds of artists in Greater Vancouver with incredible pieces just waiting to be seen. 

Our cash program acknowledges that A) artists should be paid for the exhibition of their work and B) we value the work artists make outside the expectations of funding bodies and benefactors

Who are the artists who have been featured at And-Co? 

“Fat Fingers” by Fabio Lattanz Antinori

To date, we have exhibited works by: 

Some of these artists have come through our support of the VAG Art Rental and Sales Program and Skwachàys Artist Residency. 

We invite you to visit And-Co to experience these works for yourself. Contact us today and book a tour.

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