Health, wellness and inclusion are three concepts not often associated with the art world, but Robin Unger, director of the new 1620 Gallery, is changing that.
“This space is about bringing people together – well-known artists and people who are just starting out,” he says.
The gallery is an urban jungle with wall-to-wall cedar slabs, where the air emanates strong essential oils and the wood – salvaged from across Vancouver Island by designer Kit Warren – contains healing properties.
Elder Go Tseeyeh Cho is working to bring Indigenous artists into the space, including Tim Alfred, whose work been shown in the Royal British Columbia Museum.
“We’re interested in unearthing new, raw talent,” Unger says. “Our artists come from all different backgrounds, many with limitations.”
Unger has been making art since age 3, when his mother enrolled him into a painting class, but in 2007, tragedy struck. Unger broke his neck in a diving accident on Okanagan Lake, and he now uses a wheelchair.
“I moved to the Island in 2009 and met people who were like me – disabled and artistically inclined,” he explains.
He reached out to CanAssist, an organization based out of the University of Victoria, that improves the quality of life for people with different abilities.
Through CanAssist, Unger connected with other artists who worked from their chairs like Garry Curry and Alistair Green. It was during this experience that Unger developed the idea of a live gallery, where artists could share artmaking practices and also display their work.
In February 2018, he found a space on one of the busiest stretches of downtown, a perfect location for vehicle and foot traffic. Unger now mans the gallery five days a week and welcomes on-the-spot submissions.
“Walk-ins are encouraged, and wheelchairs, too,” he says. “It’s about making art accessible to all. Art is art.”
The 1620 Gallery (1620 Blanshard St.) hosts its grand opening, Friday April 6, at 5 p.m.