Vancouver has a reputation for many things: its beauty, its active lifestyle, its unsurmountable real estate prices. But talk to almost any young person fresh to the city and they will likely all echo another recurring sentiment: Vancouver is unfriendly.
Whether or not it is to be believed, an unarguable point for the nice guys is found in the duo of Lizzy Karp and Ken Tsui. Under the moniker Here There Studio, Karp and Tsui dream up and execute out-of-the-box, one-off events designed to bring like-minded strangers together in a casual, fun, and often bizarre environment. “It’s not reacting—it’s giving people in the city the opportunity to react,” says Tsui, sipping an iced coffee next to Karp at Matchstick Coffee Roasters on Georgia (where they have, coincidentally, thrown a pop-up dinner). “We always start with: What hasn’t been done a lot in the city? How do we open up new dialogues? How do we change perceptions? How do we challenge people to be a little more adventurous, but make them feel safe at the same time?” Those questions are answered in the form of their parties: there was Roam, which saw chef Annabel Choi pair a longtable dinner with three live classical music performances at the Juice Truck storefront; or Sensory Cinema, which enlists chefs from around the city to match up courses with different parts of a film (Jackie Kai Ellis and Amelie at Groundswell Cafe, for example); or Mashup, which had chefs from Latab and The Acorn create “edible art” at the Vancouver Art Gallery; and Kobachi Sunday, for which West Restaurant chef Alex Hon cooked West Coast-inspired Japanese pork kakuni, served in Maggie Boyd ceramic bowls, at Revolver. For their most recent event, Here There built an entire storybook-themed mini golf course from scratch, with proceeds benefiting The Writers’ Exchange. Each party combines the talents of people around the city in new ways, merging food, drink, art, and activity into stimulating experiences that challenge norms and defy definitions.
Ultimately the goal of Here There is to be the great equalizer, the humble connector. “It’s really hard to be passive at something that we do,” says Karp, who also co-founded A Good Book Drive. “It’s really about participating and inviting people to participate, and I think it’s a really fun challenge.” Karp and Tsui met in 2013, when Tsui was charged with reinvigorating the Chinatown Night Market. He invited Karp, who also organizes the storytelling series Rain City Chronicles, to hold an event at the market. It was a meaningful success, and made them both realize that they work well, and effectively, in a partnership. From there, it became about “finding ways to make people feel connected to each other,” Tsui says. He continues: “It’s a lot about relating, and feeling like you’re able to have a conversation with somebody on a completely different level. You bring people together for a shared experience.”
So Vancouver may be known as a place where it is hard to make friends, but as with most observations, this one is a matter of perception. Those who can’t find their people might just not know where to look. “It’s been said that we reintroduce Vancouver to itself, and I think a reason why someone might say that is because our strengths and passion, what we’re really proud of, is collaboration,” says Karp. “I think all of our conversations start with, ‘Wouldn’t it be insane if…? OK, we have to do it!’” From there they assemble the best team they can think of, and take as much pride in facilitating a community among the people who come together to make the event happen as the ones who buy a ticket and show up to take part.
Karp and Tsui find themselves with more ideas than time, more concepts than they know what to do with. But the city is embracing what they are doing, and so it is a good problem to have—and one that keeps them driving forward to the next thing, even after cars are towed and projectors start to emit smoke and picnic tables have to be moved in the pitch black night. “It’s really funny hosting experiences like this because we are behind the scenes, and it’s really not a project of ego, for either of us,” says Karp. “I don’t think we would be here if it was a project for ego. So we create spaces for other people to connect, and we kind of fade into the background.”
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