Editors’ Picks: Our Top Vancouver Culture Experiences of 2020

In a year of chaos, arts and culture may be more important than ever—and whether we caught a show or exhibition before the lockdown, or found moments of joy or contemplation through a digital, distanced experience during it, we’re sending our thanks to all the artists out there still working to tell their stories and share their work in whatever way they can. Here, our editors share their most memorable cultural experiences from the past 12 months.

Barkley L. Hendricks/Lorna Simpson at the Rennie Museum

If I’m being honest, I fear I may be a bit of a culture snob. If I’m in London I’m at the theatre almost every night. Here, I look at the weekly listings our Alyssa Hirose uncovers and they may as well be written in esperanto. I tagged along with my wife on a trip to New York in January and I found us tickets on Craigslist for Porgy & Bess at the Metropolitan Opera that were both a screaming deal and really, really expensive. My wife, ever the level-headed one quite rightly asked why I would want to spend $1000+ on the Met given that I’ve been to the Opera in Vancouver exactly once in 25 years (it was Janacek, which might explain the drought). “Because I can wear a tux?” didn’t sway her, so we went out for dinner instead.

But when it comes to art I’m a little more mature. I loved the small, accessible Robert Rauschenberg show at the VAG. I loved the the timely, ambitious reworking of history that was Kent Monkman at the MOA. But the one show I was most excited about (and the latent snob in me was too) was the this compact tour de force featuring two legendary artists who are just finally getting the greater recognition (i.e. not just art world insiders) they’ve been long due. Off the two, Hendricks (who passed away in 2017) is the more head-scratching as to how widespread acclaim took so long given his open style, his obvious mastery of his medium, the shear power of his work. The simple answer is that it’s because he was black. And sadly the more complex answer is also that he was black and unrepentant in a time when that’s what was required. Simpson’s practice—she works in photography, multi-media, text-based art is more varied, but no less provocative. And their work could not be more topical. A show in Canada of either of these American titans at this point in time would be groundbreaking—together it made for one of the most important exhibitions in North America in 2020. And as a bonus, you can tour the exhibition virtually (the museum is closed) for the next little while by clicking here.—Neal McLennan

Third Realm at the Polygon

Taking the Seabus to North Van is the closest I’m getting to international travel any time soon so popping over to see Third Realm earlier this fall was a true treat. Featuring the work of contemporary Asian artists like Cao Fei (who specializes in mashing up SecondLife and opera), the multi-media exhibition showcased a fascinating perspective on Asia’s global reputation. This specific show is closed now, but this is your reminder to support your friendly Lonsdale Quay gallery: the Polygon’s creative, thoughtful programming is always welcome respite from the world, and even if the art itself isn’t your speed, the striking architecture and views of the Vancouver skyline (and, to be frank, the excellent gift shop) are worth the journey alone. —Stacey McLachlan, editor at large


Jason Sakaki’s Living Room Musicals

Saying Broadway Across Canada’s Dear Evan Hansen was my top culture pick for 2020 feels pretty lame. The February show was amazing, of course, but given the time and resources and money and lack of worldwide pandemic, that makes sense. Now, take something like local actor Jason Sakaki’s living room musicals—produced with almost no time, literally no money, and just one cast member and one crew member—that’s a spectacle worth raving about. Sakaki and roommate Laura Reynolds put on Les Mis in March, Beauty and the Beast in April, Kinky Boots in May and Mamma Mia in October. The Instagram live performances got a little bit more elaborate each time, as friends in the local theatre community lent the roommate duo costumes and props, but each one maintained an extremely chaotic energy punctuated with Sakaki’s truly beautiful voice. From singing Look Down in the shower to playing all three dads (and the rest of the characters, too) in Mamma Mia, the little shows were a bright spot in this very dark year—and a reminder that you don’t need a stage to put on a very good show.—Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor

The Darlings, Quarantine I

Back in those late March days when even walking too close to someone on the street felt deadly, the Darlings turned our collective experience into a moving piece of performance art. Non-binary drag performers Continental Breakfast , PM, Maiden China and Rose Butch are the Darlings, and this show was the first virtual performance I’d seen that embraced the isolating nature of creating art for Zoom, and made it part of the conversation. I wasn’t surprised that they figured it out so quickly—their live show the December before remains one of the most compelling drag shows I’ve ever seen—but the content, the performance, the terrifying time (I speak as if it’s is the past, but you know what I mean…), it was all just beautiful. —Anicka Quin, editorial director

The Wedding Party at the Arts Club

Last year, as I was scrambling around for a Christmas gift for my mom, genius struck me: get her a ticket to an upcoming play. That ended up being the very funny, very apt for a big family that is was about to attend a bunch of weddings The Wedding Party by the Arts Club Theatre Company. We went right at the start of March, when people were starting to actually be careful about where they sneezed. And while I had a bunch of concerts lined up for 2020 that I was very excited about, I told myself that I should also prioritize live shows. So much for that… there’s always 2021 I guess. The worst part? I’ve had to really think about what to get my mom this Christmas and still don’t have any ideas. In any case, this was an extremely well-acted showcase that I haven’t forgotten (2020 made sure of that). —Nathan Caddell, associate editor