Course:ARST575K/LIBR539H/grunt gallery

From UBC Wiki

Name: Grunt Gallery

Organization Type: Artist-run Centre

Address: 116 - 350 East 2nd Avenue, V5T 4R8 Vancouver, BC Canada


grunt gallery sits on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, Canada), and is one of the region’s most established artist-run centres that offers exhibitions, special projects, and public programming.[1] Notable artists that grunt gallery has worked with include Marlene Yuen, Rebecca Belmore, David Khang, and more. As expressed in their public mandate, their vision as an artist-run centre is to function as a “cultural community that upholds art in all its forms, with a mission of advancing artistic innovation through the support of diverse and often unruly ideas, practices and worldviews”.[2]

Much like how community archives are described by Stephens, the community archive in at grunt gallery is “... the product of community efforts to actively document the history and ongoing experiences of members of the source community in order to make their history accessible on ‘‘their own terms.’’

In having an archive present at their gallery space, the curators, educators, writers, archivists, and other cultural workers both local and international have been allowed to reimagine the importance of archival practice as a form of artistic intervention and expression. Grunt gallery is run by a small team of permanent staff, contractors, volunteers, and volunteer Board of Directors.[2]


grunt gallery was established in 1984 in its original location on 6th and Main St in Vancouver by eight local artists as a place for outsider art, evolving as a space “for unaffiliated artists and work that is not being shown anywhere else”.[3] After its eleventh year, grunt purchased its own space in its current location on East 2nd Ave. With a mandate to “to inspire public dialogue by creating an environment conducive to the emergence of innovative, collaborative, and provocative Canadian contemporary art”[4], grunt focuses on practices and perspectives that challenge established values in contemporary art production.

Grunt is well known across Canada and internationally for its experience working with diverse perspectives, notably with Indigenous art communities. Since the early 1990s, Grunt has provided a venue for contemporary Indigenous art production and ongoing opportunity for residencies for Indigenous curators, researchers, writers, and artists. These experiences together with ongoing relationship building with BIPOC and queer/LGBTQIA2+ arts communities have continuously shaped the centre’s fabric of self-reflexivity, diversity, accessibility, and collaboration with an anti-oppressive framework.[1]


Grunt gallery is an independent artist-run centre with a collaborative approach to working with artists and other artist-run centres both locally in Vancouver, and Canada more broadly to maintain active programming in their exhibition space. While Flinn noted that many community archives are often keen to collaborate with mainstream organizations as a way to mainstream organizational structure and funding[5], grunt gallery's archive has been incorporated within their organization.

In doing so, grunt gallery’s archive functions as a public facing and flexible space for archivists and arts professionals to collaborate. While grunt gallery's archive is not exclusive to documenting the history of the organization and the artists and art professionals that the gallery has collaborated with, the archive remains an active part in creating programming and collaborative opportunities. In such, the archive at grunt gallery functions very similar to what Flinn notes on the hybridity and multiplicities that community archives can embody: “The variety of groups, activities and collections is reflected in the many different names used: as well as community archives you might find independent archives and libraries, autonomous archives, oral history projects, local heritage groups, community museums, community resource and archive centres.”[5]

Grunt is also supported by public funding agencies and bodies such as BC arts council, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Vancouver, and more.


Since its inception in 1984, grunt gallery has built an extensive archive of materials documenting and related to its exhibitions, performances, and projects that serve as a cultural memory of its host neighbourhood of Mt Pleasant and the broader Vancouver arts community. Through the labours of community members, a concerted effort began in the 1990s to manage, preserve, and share its holdings.[6]

By its 30th anniversary, grunt’s archival holdings consisted of grunt’s physical archival holdings consist of some 90 binders of photographic and print-based material, including an estimated 200,000 slides, negatives, and digital images, along with some 500 videotapes (primarily VHS, Hi-8, and Mini-DV) documenting hundreds of exhibitions, performances, conferences, and other projects. grunt also maintains an archive of nearly 100 gallery publications. grunt’s digital archive contains approximately 7 terabytes of digitized material, with new material being added and uploaded to The Activation Map (see below, in Activating the Archives) by staff and volunteers every week.[6]

From 2010-2011, Grunt embarked on its largest digital initiative to date, Activate the Archives (ATA), funded by Heritage Canada (see below under Archival Projects). It was the success of this project that led to the Archives Plan articulated in grunt’s 2012 Strategic Plan, reflecting on the archive not only as a record of grunt’s past but “also as a rich resource from which to move forward, activating material and stories from the archive as a part of core gallery programming.”[6]


The physical grunt archives are located at grunt’s facility and available to the public as a valuable resource for students, researchers, artists, educators, and community members, by appointment.[7]

The public can also search and explore thirty years of grunt gallery’s content through the Activation Map, an online database of digitized materials that was developed as part of the Activate the Archive project[8] (see Archival Projects).

Archival Projects

LIVE: Biennial of Performance Art (1999-2005)

From 1999- 2004, grunt produced LIVE: Biennial of Performance Art which sought to highlight and broaden audiences to underground cabaret, independent artist collectives, and performance art by Indigenous, Queer, and other minority artists. LIVE offered six weeks of performance, discursive events, and other programming to Vancouver in partnership with dozens of artists, galleries, and venues. [9]

The performance photographic, text, and video documentation of Merle Addison, Mike MacDonald, Joe Sarahan, Elaine Moyah, Paul Wong, and others was digitized with support from the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre through its BC History Digitization Program.[9]

Activate the Archives (2010/2011)

The birth of the ATA project started in 2010 with a call to the public into the grunt archive to explore and develop the material. A group of over 25 individuals comprised of young artists, curators, and art historians came together to work on different elements of archiving, curating, digitizing, and designing lending to a transformation and reinterpretation of the archive - “finding work that was overlooked and making [new] connections”.[10]

The project culminated in six diverse websites: INDIANacts; Sculpture; Art of Engagement; Extract; Ghostkeeper; and Queer Intersections.[10]

In addition, ATA resulted in the development of the Activation Map, an online database developed by Mainsocial,of digitized objects of grunt’s physical objects, representing a research resource, finding aid, and web portal for users.[7] The ATA project was not only motivated by the desire to preserve materials with digital back-up, but more so was an over-arching vision to increase public access and engagement to our archives through curated websites and a growing database.[11]

Recollective Independent Archives Week (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019-2021)

In 2015, grunt gallery spearheaded Vancouver’s inaugural Recollective Independent Archives week in partnership with two local artist-run centres, Western Front and Vivo Media Arts, offering a series of free public events, panels, and screenings that highlighted artist-run centre archives, artists working with archives and initiate a wider dialogue about their connections to the rich social history of Vancouver and their contributions to its diverse contemporary culture.[11]

Subsequent programs offered in 2017 and 2018 continued to build on the approaches to archival practice “that facilitate ownership of community memory by and for community”. [11]The event continued to grow into a multi-institutional event and from 2019-2021, further expanded with national and international presenters to examine the issues of independent archives in a range of global contexts in terms of “what is at stake when artists and arts organizations confront the tasks of arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to material history.”[11]

Making of an Archive, Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen

The Making of an Archive (2014–ongoing) is a project initiated by Canadian artist Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn. The project consists of digitizing workshops, which aims to record the everyday life and civic engagements by immigrants and amateur photographers.

"The photographs are digitized and their accompanying narratives are recorded, thereby preserving records of personal histories in order to address the absent representation of multiculturalism in official archives. Focusing on digitizing printed matter, e.g. 35mm or 120mm photographs, slides or Polaroids, Nguyễn believes that immigrants who documented their daily life when they came to their new country are in danger of becoming forgotten or lost, thus losing complex and complicated histories of migration. By building this alternative structure of personal images, the artist aims to create a new archive that seeks to represent the fractured ideology of multiculturalism from the bottom up where forms of civic engagement within a structure of kinship or even in solidarity with other communities can be observed. The Making of an Archive questions existing frameworks for archival history-making, and chooses instead a trajectory of collective exploration. Drawing again from the artists’ reference to ‘space fiction’, speculation here leads to a kind of cultural star-gazing: seeing fragments of this nascent archive reminds us of vast possibilities—reflections of lives already lived, and new frameworks for a future we have yet to see. Priority is given to histories of migration from people who identify as people of color (POC)"[12]

The Making of an Archive is edited by Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn, grunt gallery’s Curator Vanessa Kwan and Archives Manager Dan Pon, with contributions by Liz Park, Gabrielle Moser, Fatima Jaffer, Dan Pon and Tara Robertson, Maiko Tanaka and an introduction by Vanessa Kwan. The publication is designed by Chris Lee.

In Nguyen's work, she explores the very notion of how archival practice are fundamentally linked to power and representation: "Power is central to this conversation; the need to uncover and provide a platform for previously marginalized voices distinguished community archives from local geographically based historical societies...[T]he creation of community archives can be seen as a form of political protest in that it is an attempt to seize the means by which history is written and to correct or amend dominant stories about the past.”[13]


Grunt gallery is an artist-run centre in Vancouver that is dedicated to the ongoing production of contemporary art practices across Canada with an emphasis in supporting the multiplicity of voices present in the Canadian arts community. In doing so, the gallery has been able to support creative and active ways to collect, disseminate, and reimagine archives as an active site for artistic expression. As illustrated in their operational and organizational mandate, grunt gallery (and with the support of arts funders, the artistic community in Canada, and the organization’s team) has been able to reimagine archives as an instrument that is conducive to the politics of art, memory, and public forms of expression: “The contemporary art archived by grunt has a very particular aesthetic of openness and discourse around multiple communities. Digitizing our archival material creates a lasting impact on curators, artists, audiences, and educators in Vancouver and beyond, by allowing research and dialogue that will further disseminate their histories.”

Through their commitment to cultural production and developing contemporary art research and exploration, their archive has over the years become a rich and lively space to hold public conversations around their archive as a cultural and artistic tool: “Our 15-year history developing digital technologies through websites, our media lab and social media puts us in an excellent position to capitalize on opportunities to reproduce, protect, and share material digitally. Effective means of communicating messages through our online channels and curated archive websites allow grunt to share exhibitions that contain historical value of our surrounding community and beyond. It also raises awareness about our cultural history and how this connects to present and future programming.”

As an arts organization, grunt gallery and their archive holdings is a space for active reimagining and recreating the politics of memory work, not only through organizational and institutional means, but as an active space for creation. In doing so, and with working with diverse artists across the country, the power of grunt gallery's archive is in its ability to push forward conversations that push the boundaries between archival practice and art making. The archive as a mainstay in grunt gallery's operations allow visitors and guests reimagine what archive can do: “the ways in which community archives empower people who have been marginalized by the mainstream media outlets and memory institutions to have the autonomy and authority to establish, enact, and reflect on their presence in ways that are complex, meaningful, substantive, and positive to them in a variety of symbolic contexts.”[13]

“The relationship of artist-run centres to archives is hugely important,” says Vanessa Kwan, grunt’s curator of community engagement. “We’ve been putting a lot of work into talking about archive activation, how to tell these histories and what these histories mean to artist-run culture. We’re also talking a lot about, specifically in Vancouver, how we start creating space in a very difficult place to do that. How do we leverage our stability and cultural capital to create opportunities for artists to create work?"


  1. 1.0 1.1 "History". grunt gallery. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "About Us". grunt gallery. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  3. Klassen, Kelsey (September 3, 2015). "grunt gallery throws open the archives". Vancouver is Awesome. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  4. "grunt gallery". Vancouver Foundation. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Flinn, A.; et al. (2009). "Whose memories, Whose Archives? Independent Community Archives, Autonomy, and the Mainstream". Archival Science. 9: 73. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2
  7. 7.0 7.1 "About the Archives". grunt. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  8. [ "Activating the Archives"] Check |url= value (help). Activating the Archives. Retrieved October 4. 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. 9.0 9.1 "LIVE Biennial of Performance Art: The Early Years". BC History Digitization Program. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Alteen, Glenn. "Welcome Message from ATA Producer, Glenn Alteen". Activate the Archives. Retrieved October5, 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Info". Recollective Independent Archives Week. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  12. Nguyen, Jacqueline Hoang. "The Making of an Archive".
  13. 13.0 13.1 Caswell, Michelle; et al. "To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise': Community Archives and the Importance of Representation". Archives and Records: 5–26. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)