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J. Michael Bull and his recent gridwork project in Studio 136 at 1000 Parker Street Studios.

The Eastside Culture Crawl a case for art activism

Artist displacement was the focus of the Eastside Culture Crawl Society this year.

By Camila Castaneda , in City , on December 20, 2019

Vancouver is facing a significant loss of art-production spaces due to the affordability crisis, leaving artists with no other options other than to share studios or leave the city.

Eastside Culture Crawl attendees gather outside one of the entrances for 1000 Parker Street Studios at Strathcona during the crawl’s mid-November event.

“The problem is that there’s no place to go and then you lose that kind of nucleus of artists working with other artists, sharing ideas and getting stimulus,” said J. Michael Bull, a photographer who holds a BFA and MBA from the University of British Columbia.

The affordability of art-production spaces was given priority during the city’s Vancouver Eastside Culture Crawl in November. The crawl’s society also held a displacement forum and presented a report on the problem on Oct. 25.

The report, “A City Without Art, No Net Loss+!,” based on a survey of 345 artists, showed that 94 per cent of respondents rent rather than own their studios, so they are vulnerable to sudden jumps in real-estate market rates.

The city had released a 10-year plan in October called “Culture Shift: Blanketing the City in Arts and Culture.”

The city’s plan outlined goals that in some ways match the goals in the crawl’s report that focused on no net loss of art spaces. Suggestions in the city’s plan included 400 units of affordable artist housing, 650,000 square feet of new or repurposed studio space, and renewal and enhancement of 150,000 square feet of existing space.

The threat of future property development

For artists, the crawl society’s statistics confirmed everything they are seeing in their daily lives.

“The report is accurate. Just looking around, there’s a new building across the street and the rents are much higher than they are here,” Bull said.

Lori Sokoluk presenting during “Talking Art” series, part of the Eastside Culture Crawl’s programming.

The report provides specific numbers.

“Out of the 1,612 artists with studios in the area, 1,332 face an imminent threat of displacement based on a high potential for future property development.”

Local artists are addressing the problem in a number of ways. Lori Sokoluk, a painter at Ponficio Studios, was displaced and joined the crawl society’s spaces committee.

“My previous studio building was under renovation, then I found it wasn’t possible to move back because the cost was just not workable,” she said.

Tax policies and zoning regulations are possible solutions

Sokoluk believes a new taxation policy would have the most impact, a recommendation also made by the crawl’s society.

According to the society’s report,  “The City of Vancouver should pilot a strategy to encourage increasing supply for artist spaces by providing tax-break incentives for property owners providing space to artists on fixed term leases in industrial lands.”

David Tycho and his abstraction entitled “Urbania No. 4” (2019), acrylic on canvas.

But Sokoluk is worried these efforts will be too late.

“These conversations are starting to happen but if it takes 10 years for things to change, the arts community in Vancouver will be gone. Next year will definitely be a tipping point.”

Incorporating zoning regulations to protect studio spaces is another alternative as artists cannot compete with commercial rent fees. The crawl society’s report states that “currently technology, gaming and other ‘creative’ manufacturing tenants can afford higher rents and monopolies spaces formerly occupied by artists.”

David Tycho, a painter at Parker Studios, is all for that. “Hopefully the city will create zoning laws and restrictions for rent increases for artists.”

Exhibit sparks conversations

Sokoluk and Tycho both participated in the exhibit about displacement because they found it was an opportunity to connect with other displaced artists. So did Laura Clark, a photographer who recently moved into William and Clark Studios.

“Just having that topic for a show has been helpful. It’s not something that concerns us now but that has been going on. I think it’s making people more aware of it and bringing to public attention that art is important in our community,” said Clark.

Photographer Laura Clark exhibiting her work in her studio space 11b at William and Clark Studios.