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City artists lose another building as city drafts policies to preserve cultural space

October 4th, 2011 · 14 Comments

Vancouver is the best of cities for artists, with a thriving arts scene that combines the world-famous (Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Stan Douglas), the new-pop (New Pornographers, Destroyer, and Said the Whale), the experimental (Boca del Lupo, Ballet BC recently).

And it’s the worst of cities for artists trying to find spaces to actually live, work, rehearse and perform. Artists, pushed here and there starting in the post-Expo years, have been dickering with the city ever since, trying to find nooks and crannies where they can hang on.

City planners played with the idea of allowing artist live/work spaces to be built on the edges of industrial land near Main and Great Northern Way in the late 80s. The result was 1,900 units, but with no guarantee that actual artists are living in them.

City staff have come out with a report that will be debated Thursday, which includes a suggestion that artists be allowed to operate studios on industrial land. (Though no detailed strategies on how to get builders to add that kind of studio space to new buildings.)

Other efforts are in there, though I, like artists who’ve looked at the report, had a hard time figuring out what might actually get done and produce spaces within the next three years. Esther Rausenberg noted that the city, as usual, has declined to define who is an artist, meaning that whatever is done for artists will be hard to enforce.

In the meantime, as I researched this story, I tracked down a rumour I’d heard that a rather well-known building in the block opposite Woodward’s — a place that had provided space for about 20 artists — had been shut down by the city.

My story on all this is in the Globe tomorrow. You can read more here from the man who was renting the building and then sub-leasing it to various artists, Jim Carrico.

In the meantime, Councillor Heather Deal checked on this after my deadline and said the city, which has been pushing the owner to do basic improvements for months, is planning to go in and do them itself and bill the owner. According to her, city inspectors had been doing everything they could to try to keep artists in the building, without utterly ignoring the safety issues.

However, it’s hard for me to understand what was achieved by issuing an order to vacate, since that prompted anyone with valuable equipment in the building to leave immediately. It appears to have had no impact on the owner.

The latest update I had from Jim Carrico was that the owner was going to change locks today and that he was showing the building to Steven Lippman, who has been renovating/gentrifying other buildings on the same block, as well as the American Hotel.

All in all, a rather discouraging situation. Interestingly, I talked to one person who is developing artists spaces elsewhere in the Downtown Eastside and someone who bought a space. Neither wanted to talk on the record about it. Why? Because they aren’t sure that they are legally allowed to have artists’ spaces where they are, according to city bylaws, and so they don’t want to go public. That’s how uncertain the situation is.

Full disclosure: My son did live in the Red Gate building for about a year, though hasn’t for two years, and I don’t know anyone who currently does. I do like the New Pornographers and have been to several of their concerts.



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