Vancouver council to hear from public on proposed regulatory changes for arts events
Vancouver council is set to hear from members of the public this week on proposed zoning changes the city says are aimed at making it easier to hold indoor arts events.
But one group is planning to voice its concerns about the pilot program that it argues doesn’t go far enough in allowing events in cultural spaces.
Under the proposed two-year pilot program, venues such as art galleries, studios, warehouses, retail stores and cafés in certain zoning districts will be able to apply for a licence to hold occasional arts events.
Ryan McCormick, a director with the Safe Amplification Site Society, said his group believes the planned limit of two events per month in each venue is overly restrictive.
“People feel that if they get the licence and then have more than two events then they’re going to get in trouble, whereas if they just don’t get the licence at all, they’ll just continue to stay hidden and secret and underground like they have, which is basically the opposite of what the licence is meant to do,” he said in a phone interview.
A staff report on the pilot program estimates that 250 to 500 unregulated events are held each year.
McCormick is also concerned that the pilot program only applies to 28 zones in the city, and that certain facilities will still be restricted from holding events, such as house venues, sites located above the first storey of a building, and basements that aren’t equipped with sprinkler systems.
“These stipulations aren’t necessarily making it easy for people to get this licence, and that was sort of the goal of this policy was to make it easy for these underground venues to do it,” he said.
Finally, McCormick said he also plans to tell council that he’s concerned the new licence could result in increased enforcement of arts events.
He noted that Safe Amp does view the proposed pilot program as a positive step, but wants to see it taken much further.
“This doesn’t go nearly far enough,” he argued.
According to Will Johnston, the director of licences and inspections for the City of Vancouver, the pilot program is aimed at allowing arts events in more types of venues than city bylaws currently permit, while ensuring that safety requirements are met.
“Typically what happens is that if you’re having large gatherings of people, that’s only permitted in a building that’s been designed and approved as an assembly occupancy, so this report’s going to allow those types of events to happen from time to time in a broader range of buildings,” he told the Straight by phone.
He noted the controls that city staff are recommending as part of the program are a limit on the frequency of events, a maximum of 250 people in attendance, and a base level of life safety.
Safety requirements will be monitored through a licensing process that Johnston said would provide groups with a single contact person at city hall.
“Under the current process, if somebody was looking at doing this, they could be dealing with multiple departments, and so that could be…building code staff, licensing staff, fire staff, and they may even be dealing with police, depending on the liquor issues,” he said. “This way they would only be dealing with one staff person through our licence office, who would coordinate all those reviews, depending on the size of the event.”
According to Johnston, the city’s proposed approach to monitoring the new program will be more about “oversight” than enforcement.
"The reason why we want that oversight is so that we can consider what the future of this program will be,” he said.
David Duprey, the owner of local establishments including the Rickshaw Theatre, as well as two art galleries on East Hastings Street and a performance space on West Hastings Street, called the proposed changes “really exciting”.
“Now you can potentially put on a decent-sized show in like a warehouse, or you know an art gallery that’s got the capacity, and you don’t have to worry about being shut down for it,” he told the Straight by phone.
But Duprey agreed with Safe Amp that the proposed changes don’t go far enough, referring to them as a “great first step”.
“It’s creating this temporary space, which is great and it’s an amazing step forward, but it doesn’t make it any easier to create permanent spaces, which is what really is the goal,” he said.
“It’s bringing us into the 20th century. We’re not really into the 21st yet, but you know—we’re getting there.”
The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. at Vancouver City Hall on Tuesday (March 12).