City of Vancouver staff seek council's green light to devise ways to expand number of artistic and cultural spaces

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      Could Vancouver residents soon see visual-art exhibits at library branches, theatrical performances in neighbourhood houses, and modern dance in community centres across the city?

      These are just three possibilities that could eventually result from a report going to city council on Tuesday (July 11).

      The 291-page document (including a supplementary report) brings forward nine staff recommendations to expand cultural spaces in an era of rising land values.

      In one key recommendation, the general manager of arts, culture and community services, Sandra Singh, has asked council to direct staff to create citywide targets for the amount of real estate allocated to the arts.

      This should be based on "community needs, the pace of development, displacement and population growth".

      In addition, the report recommends that staff work with other departments, including legal services, "to enable partnerships to secure, enhance and develop accessible arts and cultural spaces citywide".

      Another recommendation is for staff to work with local First Nations governments and urban Indigenous people "to improve support for more visibility on the land and self-determined cultural spaces".

      Yet another recommendation calls for staff to work with other departments to integrate cultural spaces into city-owned buildings, such as community centres, housing projects, social spaces, and libraries. 

      The report was written by cultural services managing director Branislav Henselmann and senior cultural planner Alix Sales.

      It's an update to the 2008 Cultural Facilities Priorities Plan, and staff felt it was important to bring this forward before completing the creative city strategy.

      Within the report, city manager Sadhu Johnston and Singh point out that cities around the world are "experiencing a dramatic loss of affordable and accessible cultural spaces".

      Yet this is occurring as there's been "growth in the importance of the arts and cultural expression, identity, and liveability".

      The report's authors point out that the arts and cultural sector is suffering "major strain" from the affordability crisis.

      They state that this has resulted in arts and cultural workers leaving cities, resulting in "the gradual loss of presentation, creation and administration spaces".

      "In London, for example, it is reported that 35% of grassroots music venues have been lost over 8 years, and 30% of artist studios are likely to be lost by 2019."

      At the same time, the cultural and creative industries are rapidly growing. In fact, culture accounted for $6.7 billion of B.C.'s gross domestic product by 2014, up $1 billion from 2010.

      The report reveals that there are close to 400 cultural spaces in Vancouver, with a total of 3.4 million square feet.

      Of those, 108 are owned or leased by the city.

      In 2016, the city commissioned AMS Planning and Research to look for "key gaps" in Vancouver's inventory of arts and cultural spaces.

      It conducted a survey that showed 66 percent of individuals and 50 percent of organizations "are concerned about losing their space".

      Nearly three-quarters reported having difficulty finding suitable spaces and 59 percent found it difficult to rent outdoor spaces.

      "Culture is a low priority in City decision-making," the AMS report stated. "The City of Vancouver has high targets related to key strategies such as housing, leaving a narrow margin for other amenities such as culture."

      It also reported that arts and culture spaces "are not consistently engaged in City capital projects or development opportunities".

      "While arts and culture spaces have been successfully integrated in some community centres, neighbourhood houses, housing projects, libraries, places of worship, major developments and elsewhere; this practice should expand and deepen."

      Flowing out of this research, Henselmann and Sales have identified five objectives to provide a framework for planning. They include:

      * aligning arts and culture as a "key priority" in city building;

      * expanding policies and tools to secure, enhance, and develop affordable, accessible cultural spaces in partnership with the arts and cultural sector, as well as with government, other agencies, and the private sector;

      * ensuring that cultural space programs, policies, and priorities incorporate equity, access, and reconciliation lenses;

      * engaging more with the community and partners on planning for the renewal of city-owned spaces, as well as in the development of new spaces;

      * and supporting initiatives arising out of the community to build capacity.

      "While the City holds one of the lowest average tax increases in Metro Vancouver, rampant real estate price escalation continues to drive up land values, resulting in significant volatility in property assessment and taxes each year," the report states. "The arts and culture sector is hit particularly hard as it tends to be located on potential redevelopment sites."

      Even arts production houses on industrial lands are being affected.

      According to the report, at least eight studios that collectively house 190 artists have faced "dramatic rent increases (in many cases double) and imminent loss of space".

      There are several recommendations in the report to address this, including exploring density bonusing, cultural districts, and mixed-use cultural hubs.