Vancouver city council today (October 6) unanimously approved staff recommendations to improve studio space in the city—just as artists in the Red Gate studios are being forced to leave their digs at 152-156 West Hastings.
In approving the Artist Studio Regulatory Review, council gave the green-light to implementing a number of steps to be taken by the city which include, among other things, amending existing policies; identifying and expanding grant programs; and reviewing existing by-laws and regulations.
“You can’t put too fine a point on the fact that we’re in a crisis of affordable space in the city for every use, and for artists that hits twice. It hits where you live and it hits where you work,” councillor Heather Deal told the Straight following the council meeting.
“To me, the most important thing in managing the crisis is to put the measures in place that we need to protect the space we have. So that means making them legal. It doesn’t mean ignoring them because they’re going to be torn down and something more expensive will be put up in the same space—you have to actually say, ‘The designated use of this space is artist studio.’ …I’m most excited about how to expand,” she added. “I think the industrial lands are vastly underutilized for creative spaces.”
But Jim Carrico, the Red Gate’s organizer, took a more cynical view of the city’s actions. “They’re putting out their proposal to save art space in Vancouver and they’re all patting each other on the back for this great process, but meanwhile they’re kicking us out,” he said.
In June, city inspectors issued an Order to Vacate the Red Gate building, citing health and safety violations. A protracted negotiation with the city and the building’s landlord resulted in an extension, but with the owner remaining uncommitted to completing the renovations the situation has now come to a head.
The city has now taken the unprecedented move of requiring the landlord to complete work on the building within seven days. “We’ve said to the owner, ‘You have seven days to finish the last of the repairs,’” Deal explained. “‘It’s a minor amount of work, it’s under $10,000.…If you don’t do it in seven days, we’re going to hire a contractor and bill you for it.’”
Deal said it was the first time such a move had been taken regarding a creative space.
But Carrico said the city’s tack has only made the situation work. “All he’s doing now is kicking us the fuck out so he doesn’t have to get charged,” he said. “They’re just forcing him to get that building empty. That’s their big priority. Get us all out of there.… The owner is saying we need to be out by Monday or he’s going to change the locks. He’s going to throw all our stuff in the lane. And it’s the city that’s forcing the issue.”
Deal said the order to complete work on the building would stand, whether or not the Red Gate artists remained. "The city is not evicting anybody for being in a space that’s not zoned for artists," she said. "The problem is the basic life and health and safety issues of the building code are not there.”
She acknowledged that the timing regarding the studio regulatory review was unfortunate when it came to the Red Gate. “It’s a really unfortunate moment,” she said. “The work we’re trying to do would protect them. The timing is horrible. It’s horrible, there’s no question.”