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Garden/Gathering Space comes alive at Eighth & Eight Creative Spaces

New gathering space outside Massey Theatre designed to support Indigenous cultural resurgence and storytelling.
Crews work on a new Garden/Gathering Space at Eighth & Eight Creative Spaces.

A new Garden/Gathering Space is taking root at Eighth & Eight Creative Spaces.

If you’ve passed by the Massey Theatre complex in recent days, you may have noticed crews working near the Eighth Avenue entrance to Eighth & Eight Creative Spaces.

“The Garden/Gathering Space has been developed to support Indigenous cultural resurgence, storytelling frameworks and stories that guide and direct us from the land outward,” said a news release from Massey Theatre. “These stories offer opportunities for connection and sharing universal wisdom to strengthen our futures together as a community.”

The concepts for the project have been led by Ronnie Dean Harris, Massey Theatre’s Indigenous cultural developer. As the lead artist/researcher behind the project, he has been working closely for several years with Massey Theatre executive director Jessica Schneider to consider the project with other designers, community advisors and knowledge keepers.

“As our goals to create a framework for urban Indigenous connections became grounded, we were able to secure grants from Heritage BC, Canadian Heritage and Vancouver Foundation to bring this project to life,” Schneider said.

PFS Studios was engaged to interpret Harris’ research in the landscape design. A design collective of artists with both familial and community-based connections to these lands, stories and languages was also engaged in the project.

“The garden space is representative of the flow of the river, and of the notion that the Transformers wrote their stories onto the land through these transformations,” Harris said in a news release. “The frame of the structure is a nod to the ancient framework of Coast Salish plank houses. This area of New Westminster does not sit on the north/south grid of the rest of the Lower Mainland but rather follows the bend in the river. So, the front of the garden faces the river and mountains and includes many native plant species, in an effort for the land to recognize itself.”

In addition to native plant species and greenery, the Garden/Gathering Space will include public art and Halkomelem language installations. A community event will be held in May to mark the opening of the space.

“As the space grows, all are welcomed and encouraged to visit the landscape and installations,” said the news release. “Future programming connected to and inspired by the space is in development, as well as day to day opportunities include that include chances to harvest berries, holding land-based ceremonies and more.”

The Massey Theatre Society operates the 1,260-seat Massey Theatre at 735 Eighth Ave. It also operates the Eighth & Eight Creative Spaces, which includes more than 75,000 square feet of space in the Massey Theatre arts complex – including the theatre, the Plaskett Gallery, two multipurpose studios, two performance studios, a dance studio, digital labs and the new Garden/Gathering Space.

The City of New Westminster took over ownership of Massey Theatre complex in October 2021, after finalizing negotiations with the school district. The New Westminster school district had planned to demolish Massey Theatre and build a new theatre in the new high school, but the city stepped in to save Massey Theatre as a venue for the performing arts.