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Crafting Dreams: The Joys and Challenges of Kate Metten Ceramics on Main street

Kate Metten Ceramics is a performance act of extended devotion to craft. The pottery store exists as an artwork creating a moment in time and space where a public audience witnesses the transformation of raw clay into handmade pottery. It's a studio where the act of creating functional vessels enhances the mundane to become an art form. As I work tirelessly day after day, I invite viewers to engage with the process and question the boundaries between art, craft, and life. The daily rituals of wedging, throwing, shaping, firing, and glazing become a meditation. This process highlights the intuitive aspects of creating objects that arise as evidence of the hand and mind in motion. The passage of time is marked by the gradual accumulation of pottery, creating a living exhibit in this storefront that evolves over the duration of the performance. We are excited to announce Kate Metten as the 2023 recipient of the BC Achievement Award of Applied Art and Design Judson Beaumont Emerging Artist for her dedication and contribution to our cultural economy. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Carol Mayer for her kind nomination for the BC Achievement Award. Her support and recognition mean the world to me, and I am truly honoured by this gesture.

In the upcoming new year, Kate Metten Ceramics will be undergoing a significant transformation as we have decided to relocate from our current retail location at 2408 Main Street to a state-of-the-art 1400 square foot industrial production space located on Franklin Street open for events and by appointment. It is exciting to merge the painting and ceramic studios for the first time with intentions to return to more exhibition focused expression, while maintaining small batch ceramic design. Ceramic purchases can be made through our web-shop at . We are grateful to our ongoing wholesale partnerships with Maison Simons Fabrique 1840, Coco et Olive, Polygon Gallery, Wil Aballe Art Projects, Western Front’s Toque Market, among many others. This project would not have been possible without the support of our neighbouring Mount Pleasant community. Thank you.

One of the most significant joys of owning a ceramics studio on Main Street is the close connection to our community. I have worked on this block of Main for over a decade and I am grateful to the support of business owners like Chris at Pulp Fiction, Theresa at Rath Art Supplies, Nick at the Comic Shop, Sandra at Dig It Vintage and the Budgies crew. I am proud to create a hub for local clay artists and enthusiasts in this special building that began as the Wosk’s furniture shop in 1940, and has continued to support artists for nearly a century. If you too feel a connection to this special building please follow this link to sign the petition to protect it. As we transition this fall, we will continue to offer monthly clay workshops and a series of fall pop-up exhibitions to continue our engagement with the community, fostering a sense of belonging among customers and artists alike. Operating a brick-and-mortar ceramics studio on Main Street has been an incredible journey filled with both rewarding moments and daunting challenges. Reflecting on the path we've traveled, I've come to appreciate how these challenges have shaped our business and my personal growth. Here, I'd like to delve into of the exciting opportunities, pressing challenges and growth experiences we've encountered in our journey to share what I've learned.

Firstly, the relentless rise in costs has been a recurring obstacle for us. Rent, utilities, and material expenses have steadily increased in the short time since the pandemic, putting considerable pressure on our profit margins, limiting our ability to achieve bigger goals. We were not eligible for arts grant funding due to the commercial nature of this studio model which means our survival remains on directly moving work into the hands of clients. The atelier’s commercial nature has affected our eligibility for arts grant funding since many arts grant programs prioritize supporting non-profit artistic endeavours to promote creativity and culture. Sometimes friends ask how best to support me, and the answer is that we rely on community support through the sale of ceramics to fund this project. We've adopted a meticulous approach to financial management, seeking cost-effective alternatives and optimizing our production operations wherever possible. The ability to adapt and find creative solutions has been key to our survival and comes firsthand thankfully as a creative individual.

Gentrification in Vancouver has been a double-edged sword, with its impact on independent businesses being a concern. Our location at the intersection of Main and 8th is at the centre of the new transit construction for the Broadway Plan effecting foot traffic and parking. As upscale developments and affluent residents move into once-vibrant neighbourhoods, the character of these areas can undergo significant changes. While gentrification can bring economic investment and improved infrastructure, it leads to rising property prices and rents squishing long-standing independent and experimental businesses that add to the cultural economy who can no longer afford to operate in the area. The loss of these unique establishments can be detrimental to the cultural fabric of the city and may result in a homogenization of the urban landscape, as chain stores and high-end boutiques take their place. Striking a balance between urban revitalization and preserving the vitality of independent businesses is a complex challenge for Vancouver grappling with gentrification and density goals. Ultimately, it's crucial to strike a balance between revitalizing neighbourhoods and ensuring that existing residents and businesses are not displaced or adversely affected by the gentrification process. This requires thoughtful urban planning and community-driven approaches to address the concerns associated with gentrification.

While ceramics is a meditative and therapeutic art form, the serene environment of our studio can sometimes attract unwanted attention. Perhaps one of the most unexpected challenges we've encountered is the issue of personal safety and security. We've faced instances of daily stalking ongoing for months now and aggression from the public while myself and staff are trying to focus on clay work. I once had a man point pepper spray in my face insisting to use my studio to hide from another man with a gun who was after him. Another time a man rode his bike into the gallery to ask if I made teeth. The most hurtful comment I received from the public was from a woman who attempted to undermine my effort by asking “Do you just have a rich husband who pays for all this?” (The answer is no, I am a single woman who moves over 800 pounds of clay per month). As a young woman business owner and known community member, I walk a fine line between wanting to be present for the public who may need support and wanting security. I lend a hand to the public whenever I can, like the pedestrian I helped who was pricked by a needle, or the women I’ve connected with who have asked me to call them a cab while fleeing domestic violence. These experiences have taught me the importance of giving back to community and being a strong woman business owner.

After 18 months of interfacing with the public, I crave the privacy and solitude necessary to achieve my work, and can recognize that handmade small batch ceramic design may still have a long way to go before it is fully understood and integrated into the everyday life here in Vancouver. I am a strong advocate for artists rights. Something I must communicate is how disheartening it was to encounter instances where clients, after investing collaborative time and energy in the design and creation of a unique ceramic commissions, failed to uphold their end of the bargain by paying for and picking up custom assignments. Such situations pose significant challenges not only to the artists involved but also to the sanctity of artistic expression itself. I believe that our artistic creations deserve respect, not only in the form of appreciation but also in the form of honoring the commitments we make during the creative process. When individuals place custom ceramic orders and subsequently abandon their financial obligations or neglect to pick up their cherished pieces, they undermine the delicate ecosystem of creativity that artists and artisans work tirelessly to maintain. We've learned to listen carefully to our customers, monitor industry trends, and swiftly adjust our offerings to cater to public needs. This adaptability has allowed us to maintain a loyal customer base while attracting new audiences. Regardless, I would like to remind the public that this is a challenging task, and I continue to advocate for the rights of artists as it is crucial in ensuring their creative contributions are recognized and fairly compensated, fostering a vibrant and equitable artistic community. By championing artist rights, we empower creators to express themselves freely and sustain their livelihoods through their valuable contributions to society.

I have truly enjoyed growing as a mentor this year. Hiring skilled artisans and instructors is vital to the Leach-studio model’s success. Growing as a mentor involves constantly refining one's guidance and communication skills, adapting to the unique needs and aspirations of each emerging creative talent, and nurturing their growth with patience and encouragement. Mentors play a crucial role in guiding and nurturing the talents and skills of their mentees. I have a strong appreciation for their contributions to your growth as an artist such as mentors like Gailan Ngan and Heather Dahl who provided valuable insights, technical knowledge, and inspiration to help me develop my skills and style. The guidance and support of these mentors were instrumental in shaping my artistic journey. As a mentor now myself, I find supporting budding young talent not only fosters their creative development but also enriches one's own perspective, fostering a dynamic exchange of ideas and a deep sense of fulfillment in the mentorship journey. Yet, finding and retaining talent as an employer has proven to be a dynamic and moving target. Much of my energy is diverted from my creative work to instead focus on training staff. Skilled individuals often have various career opportunities, and some prefer freelancing over traditional employment. Additionally, the allure of financially sustainable and culturally rich cities can pull talent away from our no-fun expensive city. To tackle this challenge, we've invested in creating a nurturing and inspiring work environment offering career mentorship and clay coaching to these aspiring professionals, and fostering a sense of friendship among our staff. I will continue to need studio help and encourage anyone interested in doing BC’s Early Career Development Grant with me to reach out.

One of the things I loved most about my studio practice before the shop was the freedom and autonomy it provided my lifestyle. While opening a shop brought new responsibilities and challenges, it's became important to find ways to maintain the aspects of my studio practice that I loved. Striking a balance my business responsibilities with my artistic pursuits can help me continue to enjoy the freedom and autonomy I value in my lifestyle. I love the flexibility to work when I’m most inspired: I look forward to mornings throwing in my pyjamas, followed by a long morning walk, homemade lunch and afternoons working with oil paint before putting the pots to bed. In our future 1400 square foot live-work loft, I have goals to create a residency hosting visiting artists while pursuing my own residencies abroad in Europe and Asia. I look forward to returning to a private-studio model and focusing on digital marketplaces, studio sales, farmers markets and exhibitions. In a contemporary age dominated by global village e-commerce and digital marketplaces, the charm of this handmade Main Street businesses still holds a special place in our hearts, but is not necessary for visibility. Instagram is the greatest portal bringing clients into the studio from the comfort of their homes. I will continue to offer by appointment studio viewings fostering tangible experiences of the work. Studio sales will provide in-person events so you can feel the balance in each thrown vessel in a way that online shopping cannot replicate. Our niche ceramic business continues to thrive and we are discovering both the joys and challenges of turning our passion for pottery into a successful career venture. I look forward to striking a balance with my natural rhythms, the time arc of the clay, chipping away at the oil paintings to evolve more quickly and having the freedom to move about my studio privately without requirements for daily open hours. I look forward to having complete control over my creative process to experiment with different techniques, materials, and ideas without external constraints.

Friends who have yet to visit the atelier, please read this as an invitation to see this ephemeral space before it transforms in 2024. We have an outstanding holiday season planned for you all and there is so much to celebrate! I've learned that each obstacle has been an opportunity for growth and innovation. This experience has pushed me to become more resilient, adaptable, and creative in my approach to ceramics business. It has taught me what environment myself and the work require in order to perform at our best. As we move forward, we remain committed to providing a unique and enriching experience for our customers while meeting the demands of an ever-changing landscape. Please visit the atelier at 2408 Main Street, Wednesday to Sunday now until December 29, 2023. At the strike of midnight it vanishes.

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