Volunteer directors of the W2 Community Media Arts Society are optimistic that the nonprofit organization will be able to reach a “new agreement” with the city, despite facing a notice of eviction from its space in the Woodward’s complex.
Dethe Elza, chair of the society’s board, said the organization was served an eviction notice by the city about two weeks ago. Two floors of the media centre were given 90 days’ notice—until the end of February—while the media café was given 30 days, until the end of December. Staff of the café, which is run by a legally separate society, were let go last month.
“The city has served notice on W2, but they’ve expressed interest and willingness to help us form a new agreement with them, and so that’s what we’re in the process of,” Elza told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s come to our attention that the finances are in pretty rocky shape, and so we’re also coming up with plans for how to deal with that, which is fairly straightforward economics.…While we’re putting those plans into place, we’ve had to lay off some staff and reduce hours in the facility.”
The community arts centre—which hosts various community groups, digital education workshops, cultural programming, and events—is expected to pay an $85,000 annual amenity fee for the space in the Woodward’s building, a charge it hasn’t paid since it moved in last year.
“We’re trying to work this out,” Sid Tan, a board member of the W2 Café Community Media Arts Society, told the Straight by phone. “Really the two boards are trying to work it out, and it’s clear to me that we both have the sustainability of W2 in mind.
“I don’t think accountants and lawyers are going to solve what is at the heart of this matter, which is the W2 vision,” Tan said. “That is only going to be solved in the political arena, and by our community.”
In a widely circulated letter that then–W2 executive director Irwin Oostindie sent to Vancouver’s director of cultural services in February, he indicated that the organization was carrying an operating deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, of about $80,000 and a debt load of $110,000 in start-up costs.
“W2 recognizes it will be 24-36 months until we are stable and operating at a break-even. We require time to redevelop our business plan and revise our agreement with the City of Vancouver on finishing the only public-access space in Woodward’s,” the letter read.
Oostindie also indicated in the letter that W2 had set a target of raising $735,000 for its capital campaign, and that the City of Vancouver was “unwilling to have its investments matched by the federal government, at a key time when W2 sought matching funds from Cultural Spaces Canada”. He noted that the W2 Media Café had emerged as the busiest urban aboriginal programming space within Vancouver that wasn’t operated by an aboriginal organization.
“This crosscultural work is vital and important within the City of Vancouver,” Oostindie wrote.
Ellen Woodsworth, a former city councillor with the Coalition of Progressive Electors, told the Straight by phone that the annual $85,000 amenity fee was identified as a concern in previous council discussions of the issue. COPE issued a news release this week urging the City of Vancouver to significantly reduce the fee.
“Clearly, for most arts organizations, that’s a very difficult amount to be able to pay, and for small ones and small Downtown Eastside organizations, it becomes prohibitive, and it was identified as a concern right when we were discussing it at council,” Woodsworth said. “Why should the City of Vancouver be subsidizing the large artistic productions and not some of these smaller, local groups?”
Vancouver’s general manager of community services, Brenda Prosken, was not available for an interview with the Straight. In a December 9 statement, Mayor Gregor Robertson indicated that senior city staff have met regularly with W2’s board and executive director during the past year to “convey concerns about financial management of the organization”.
“W2 has not been able to meet its obligations under its agreement with the City and the targets it set for itself in its original business plan,” the statement reads. “City staff continue to work with the W2 board so that a renewed and more sustainable operating model can be put in place.”
Both the W2 Media Arts board and the W2 Café board are scheduled to have meetings next week.