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Current James Black Gallery residents Natalie Robinson and Darius Kian at work in the space.

Local artists embrace the chance to emerge from isolation

James Black Gallery helps Vancouver artists connect to their community post-pandemic.

By Mae Folsom Jacobson , in City , on December 5, 2021

For recent art school graduates Natalie Robinson and Darius Kian, painting alone at home during COVID-19 left a lot to be desired. Now, for the first time in almost 18 months, Robinson and Kian are able to work side by side and showcase their work as resident artists at Mount Pleasant’s James Black Gallery 

“The pandemic made the last year of school really hard.” said Kian, who attended Emily Carr University with Robinson. “Having access to people and opportunities is important in the art world — we missed all the networking that would have happened at the culmination of our graduation because of COVID.” 

Robinson and Kian are the third beneficiaries of what James Black Gallery calls local pod residencies, a concept developed in 2020 by co-founder Zandi Dandizette and past studio mate Anna Trowbridge in support of community reconnection following isolation during the pandemic. The idea came about as people were restricting themselves to only seeing certain people during lockdown.  

“People were choosing pods as a way of committing to a group.” said Dandizette.  “We thought it would be possible to have a group of artists — visual, performance, or sound — commit to two weeks to a month together.” 

Dandizette poses in The Cave Room, one of the gallery’s many eclectic spaces.

As a nurse, Trowbridge was able to consult on health and safety measures for the pod residencies and Dandizette secured $3 thousand in funding from the City of Vancouver, enough to pay the six participating groups. Between changing restrictions and applying for grants, the residencies didn’t begin as soon as Dandizette hoped, but delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

“We’re lucky that the residencies began as restrictions lowered,” said Dandizette. “It’s the perfect time for reconnection between collaborators and it allows for the possibility of art openings.” 

In addition to offering residencies, the James Black Gallery rents out affordable studio space to a variety of artists from animators to potters. Diana Lupieri considers her corner in the ceramics studio and the community contained within to be a haven after the loneliness of COVID. 

Some of Diana Lupieri’s hand-built ceramic work.

Lupieri teaches hand-building and wheel-throwing classes in the space and hopes to have a show in February.  

“It’s been very cathartic being able to make connections and see other people’s work. I feel really supported,” she said. 

The sentiment is much the same for Robinson and Kian, whose exhibit, Distortions, runs Dec. 9 to 14 at the gallery 

“It’s so rare for an emerging artist in Vancouver to have space to have a two-person show … that never happens.” said Robinson. “Hopefully more opportunities will arise but I’m just excited about the exhibition at the end of our residency.” 

The James Black Gallery, located at 144 E. 6th Ave., is housed in a heritage building from 1889.

—Natalie Robinson and Darius Kian’s exhibit, Distortions, takes place Dec. 9–14 at the James Black Gallery. Find out more, including about upcoming workshops taught by Diana Lupieri, at