Open Doors Project

The Open Doors Project - Discovering the diverse histories of Powell Street

Wouldn’t it be great if visitors to the Powell Street Festival could also walk up and down Powell Street and explore some of the businesses and workshops in the area?

This was the simple idea that started the Open Doors Project – a multidimensional project to help commemorate and animate the Powell Street area. Led by the Powell Street Festival Society in collaboration with the Japanese Canadian National Museum, the initial idea has grown and expanded over a two year period to include permanent panels, a self-guided walking tour and an interactive website.

We started out small. In the summer of 2010, we gathered historic information for six buildings along the street. Temporary panels were produced, including a timeline, photographs and archival information. The six businesses agreed to open their doors during the festival, so visitors could experience both the outside and inside of each space. The response was extremely positive – and visitors were definitely interested in seeing the project expanded.

For the second phase, we wanted more community collaboration, and hosted several meetings to try and engage different residents and building owners. We posed several questions:
How can we commemorate the Japanese Canadian history along Powell Street?
How can we recognize the multicultural communities who also live in the neighbourhood?
How can we let the public feel informed about the many homes, workshops and businesses in the area?

The community members who attended the meetings were full of creative ideas. There was a definite desire to recognize the Japanese heritage in the area without being too stereotypical or kitschy. They wanted something artistic and creative. They also presented a very strong mandate to be inclusive and recognize diverse histories over the last 125 years. How could we bridge these many needs?

The addition of Cindy Mochizuki to the project team was key. As a multidisciplinary artist with personal roots in the area, Cindy brought a unique perspective to the project. She was able to merge the historical information with contemporary artistry. The resulting panels are individual artworks which share snippets of information – of history, culture, stories, and memories. They hint at connections to the land and changes through time. Each panel engages the passersby through colour and imagery. If visitors take the time to do a complete tour of all 16 panels, they can be read together like a graphic novel - a mini history of Japanese Canadians and the Powell Street area.

The physical panels are supported by this website, which contains additional research materials and links to other resources. We know that this project is only one step towards a larger goal to commemorate and revitalize Powell Street. With limited space, the panels only provide a small amount of information – an introduction into the intricate history of this fascinating neighbourhood!

Thank you to the many community members and businesses who supported this project! Team members include Project Coordinator Carmen Lam, Kristen Lambertson and Julia Aoki from the Powell Street Festival, Beth Carter and Linda Kawamoto Reid from the Japanese Canadian National Museum, and Cindy Mochizuki. Chisaki Muraki-Valdavinos and Kira Gerwing from the City of Vancouver Planning Department have been a huge help. The Strathcona Business Improvement Association has agreed to assist with long term maintenance of the panels. Thank you to the City’s Great Beginnings program for funding the project.