Communal living is giving Vancouver’s art scene a cost-effective chance at survival and reinvention in one of the continent’s priciest cities.
A growing number of artists have transformed large Vancouver homes into “art houses” that function not just as low-cost housing and collective studio spaces, but also as venues used to help put on events that earn money for household expenses.
The Jungle in east Vancouver, The Jazz House in south Vancouver, and Inspiral Community Mansion in Fairview are just a few of the homes that have been established in recent years.
There are typically six to 11 artists living in each house. Tenants minimize costs by sharing rent, and the large spaces eliminate the need for separate studios.
“If it weren’t for this house, I would have no one,” said Floyd Pepper, who lives in the OmHome near Oakridge shopping centre. He is paying $400 monthly to split a room.
The 23-year-old moved into the OmHome six months ago. He works as an audio-visual technician, while doing creative work in photography and music.
The OmHome also hosts monthly events, “Boogies,” that provide the household with financial support.
Originally from Marseilles, Felix “Zababa” Zaobab, 24, plays the didgeridoo and drums. He has managed the OmHome’s events since he moved in a year ago.
Zababa co-ordinates workshops and performances with magicians, musicians, DJs, fire dancers, and masseuses to draw in the crowds.
Thanks to his efforts, a single Boogie can bring in as much as $1,000.
Half the proceeds from the Boogie go to the house’s expenses and Zababa pockets the other half for rent and equipment.
The living-room venue is not a new concept for Vancouver.
Back in 2003, Myriam Steinberg was tired of the outrageous cost of renting outside venues. Determined to make events affordable, she brought the art community into the living rooms of family and friends with the “In the House Festival” in east Vancouver.
What’s different with this latest generation is that the houses have evolved beyond a venue to being a way of life.
Vancouver’s community of art houses constantly draw in artists from across the city, providing creative momentum for the artists who live there.
“It’s really nice to have various different people from various backgrounds,” said Raj Gill, 32. “It’s helped me grow as an artist, having that at my fingertips.”
Gill started Grandma’s Palace, near Victoria and 32nd, in 2015. In October, he and five palace residents moved into a new house, also in east Vancouver, that they christened Kids Castle.
Similar to the OmHome, Gill’s houses have hosted by-donation events, including an improvisational concert series and weekly “clown jams.”
“There is an amazing amount of co-operation going on and people are putting their egos in their back pocket [to make] things possible for each other,” said George Rammell, a Vancouver sculptor.
Rammell was a professor at Capilano University for 24 years and is known for his collaborative work with Bill Reid. He said communal living could be an economic solution in a time of exodus for Vancouver artists.
However, he said the shared houses do not solve all problems.
As a large-scale sculptor, Rammell cannot do his kind of work in a house or condo studio. As a result, he is concerned with the dwindling availability of industrial space for artists like himself. Rammell needs a spacious, well-ventilated venue to produce large works and “make noise with chainsaws.”
Rammell worries that the spacial and financial needs of individual artists will continue to be overlooked. He submitted a pitch to Vancouver city council in early October advocating for more affordable warehouse spaces for artists.
In spite of situations like Rammell’s, art houses are proving to be an effective way for many artists to continue doing what they love.
The Boogies have been so successful that Zababa thinks they have likely outgrown the OmHome. His housemates estimated the last event drew over 250 guests.
Although the Boogie might be ready to move, the success of the OmHome and Kids Castle show how Vancouver’s artists are not ready to give up on their community.
“It really shattered this idea that I either live on my own or I get married and live with someone else,” said Gill.
“This showed me that you could live with people and they could be like your pseudo-family.”