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Free art supplies offered weekly at North Park pop-up in Victoria

‘Everyone deserves the right to express themselves,’ says Supply Victoria founder Ashley Howe
Tracy Wai de Boer, Victoria writer and artist, browses inside Supply Victoria’s Creative Reuse Centre, a pop-up open three afternoons a week until June. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

Ashley Howe will tell you that free art supplies, from crayons to car decals, will go a lot further for humanity than first thought.

Her non-profit, Supply Victoria has established a colourful pop-up location on Vancouver Street near Caledonia Avenue, between the Our Place Tiny Homes Village and Royal Athletic Park, to distribute used art, office and school supplies for free.

The non-profit hosted a launch party for the new space on Thursday (Feb. 3) and quickly found a handful of North Park community members – from young families to residents of the adjacent supportive housing – lined up to browse the supplies. The pop-up will run from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until June.

Howe was pleased to launch her non-profit’s first physical and accessible distribution space, after sitting on the materials for over a year.

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“This whole thing is about removing barriers to access. Everyone deserves the right to express themselves,” she said. “I think that’s more important than ever right now, with the converging crisis of the pandemic and the climate … we’re not going to take massive strides towards action unless we’re a healed people, looking inwards to recover and heal ourselves, and outward to connect with the community.”

Since its founding in 2018 following Howe’s move to the city, Supply Victoria has so far diverted more than 2,000 pounds of material away from landfills and into the hands of local artists, students and teachers. Materials are donated from individuals and businesses, and sometime even salvaged from the dumpsters of local supply stories. Howe recently made a significant haul of perfectly good car decals from behind a local shop that she said could work well in visual art.

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The supplies range from the classics; pencils, markers, crayons and paper, to sticker rolls from print shops, scrap fabric from a local wax rock company, and more.

Tracy Wai de Boer, a Victoria writer and artist who spent some time browsing each of the pop-up’s walls, said she and her family of artists know too well the potential expense of art supplies. As a photographer, yearly expenses can account for thousands of dollars, she said.

The pop-up shows that creativity and artistic practise are “like a basic human need,” de Boer said. “Food and shelter; those things are extremely important. But I think creative expression is also a huge part of what it means to be human.”

The initiative was transplanted from Howe’s time in her native Portland, Ore. There, she had run one of the over 130 creative reuse centres across the United States. “Imagine big, colourful spaces filled with colourful cast-off materials,” she said.

The pop-up was made possible in Victoria with the North Park Neighborhood Association’s application to the Community Foundations of Canada grant, which has funded the endeavour. Howe stressed the equal significance of donations made to their website, and their Instagram page, @supplyvictoria.

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