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Toronto group prepares lifeline for Vancouver artists

A Toronto non-profit hopes to bring to Vancouver a method of beating high real-estate prices and creating affordable workspaces for…

By Joshua Robinson , in Culture , on October 27, 2014 Tags: , , ,

Carpenter Justin Smith works in the Arts Factory Society workspace at 281 Industrial Avenue, the sort of property that BC Artscape could invest in.

A Toronto non-profit hopes to bring to Vancouver a method of beating high real-estate prices and creating affordable workspaces for artists.

For decades, Toronto Artscape has created affordable real estate for artists in Toronto.  The group is now aiming to tackle Canada’s most expensive real-estate market to provide Vancouver artists with the same.

“Toronto Artscape has a number of very successful, high-profile projects and brings with it a level of expertise which we don’t have native to the arts community in Vancouver,” said Elia Kirby, a supporter of the BC Artscape project and president of Vancouver’s Arts Factory Society.

Vancouver city council has approved $300,000 to support the proposed BC Artscape project, if the Toronto group can find another $600,000 from other donors.

Modest plans for Vancouver

Since 1986, Toronto Artscape has been purchasing properties in Toronto and converting them in to artistic workspaces.

In Text Thunderbird Round 3
Kirby has real worries for small-scale artists in Vancouver

Toronto Artscape manages 387,000 square feet of workspace in Toronto. In 2013, rent for Toronto Artscape facilities was half that of similar spaces in downtown and midtown.

Its Gibraltar Point project, located in the 35,000 square foot Toronto Island Public and Natural Science School, is a school-turned-arts centre that offers artists affordable space, 15 long-term work studios, and overnight accommodation.

But the Vancouver plans are much more modest.

“These projects are going to meet the needs of a select group of artists in the community,” said Kirby. “Spaces of this size don’t necessarily cater to very small-scale, emerging, and poor artists that are an important part of the cultural ecology.”

Artists forced out

Vancouver neighbourhoods such as the Downtown Eastside and Mount Pleasant house some of the highest concentrations of artists in Canada, with an estimated 8,200 residing in the metro area. Rising land prices and gentrification in these low-income areas are changing these artistic neighbourhoods.

In 2009, 30 Mount Pleasant artists, including the Secret Lantern Society, were forced to vacate their workspace at 190 Prior Street after the sale of the building to Amacon, a condo-development company.

That made many people in the arts sector realize they should be paying more attention to real estate.

“The arts sector is generally under-supported and attention on the real-estate side of things will have rich dividends,” said BC Artscape project supporter Joel Solomon. He is also co-founder of Renewal Funds, a Vancouver-based social venture group.

“It’s all doable, but just like with any other entrepreneurship, can the entrepreneurs pull it off?”