Displacement study tracks loss of 400,000 square feet of East Side artist studio space in past 10 years

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      A new Eastside Culture Crawl Society study has documented the loss of 400,000 square feet of studio spaces over the past decade, due to residential or commercial conversions and redevelopment.

      Out of the 325 addresses identified as art spaces, 173 are currently used by artists and 152 were lost or converted for other uses over the decade in the Eastside Arts District--the geographic area of the annual Eastside Culture Crawl.

      The just-released study called City Without Art? No Net Loss+ says that volume of  spaces represents almost 50 percent of locations used by artists in the district.

      "We used to be shocked with studio evictions, but they seem so commonplace now,"  ECCS Space Committee chair John Steil and ECC executive and artistic director Esther Rausenberg write in the study's intro.

      In a recent survey that was part of the project, 77 percent of artists said they are seeking to relocate—38 percent due to rental increases and 35 percent due to redevelopment, change in property ownership, or demolition. A total of 21 percent of artists have been dislocated and an additional 14 percent are facing the threat of eviction.

      Unveiled at the weekend's opening Displacement forum, the report urges: "The city requires the immediate implementation of a zero net loss policy in addition to a policy that expands and incentivizes artists studio space: no net loss, plus! These policies would protect and expand spaces for production; spaces that are aff ordable and provide security of tenure, all within the context of a synergistic Eastside Arts District."

      It found the median rental rate of studio space has increased by 65 percent over the past 8 years.

      Those rising rents, along with the lack of tenure security and a shrinking supply of older industrial sites suitable for use as artist spaces were tagged as the main reasons artists are being evicted and displaced en masse in the neighbourhood. 

      The report is the first detailed assessment of the loss of visual-artist production spaces in the Eastside Arts District; two surveys were completed over the past 12 months, gathering data on over 300 artist spaces covering over 2,000 artists in the Eastside Arts District.

      Artists had to find new spaces after 339 Railway was redeveloped.

      Zoning regulations, development incentives, land use restrictions, and supportive funding streams are some of the recommendations presented in the report. While the tax assessment falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction, the ECCS suggests the City of Vancouver should continue to push for a split-tax assessment that allows artist production spaces to be taxed at a lower level in comparison to other businesses. It also wants tax-break incentives for landlords who rent space to artists.

      The study also calls for recognition of the new Eastside Arts District: "While the tax assessment falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction, the City of Vancouver should continue to push for a split-tax assessment classifi cation. This would allow the City of Vancouver to create split assessments for commercial and industrial properties under which artist production spaces could be taxed at a lower level in comparison to other businesses."

      Amid the factors the study points to:

      • The City of Vancouver has the highest concentration of artists per capita among Canada’s largest cities. But the majority of artists live below the poverty line, with 63 percent reporting an income of less than $40,000 a year and a median income of $22,000 a year (according to a Hill Strategies report from 2014).


      • Recent policies adopted by the municipal and provincial governments to increase housing supply--such as the foreign buyers' tax and the empty homes tax--have yielded unintended fallout for artist production spaces. "They've shifted investor focus to the industrial and commercial sectors, where there are greater profits to be realized as a result of increasing competition for a shrinking industrial land base."


      • City policies to encourage an economic shift away from manufacturing toward the high-tech industry have also had harmful effects on artists. "The outcome is that artists have been evicted to welcome high technology companies, reflecting a significant net loss of long-standing space where art was made."


      • Artists are also being forced to absorb increasing property taxes. "Property taxation under the system of ‘highest and best use’ evaluates property values based on their full development potential. This system incentivizes redevelopment and displacement of tenants in older buildings and recently rezoned areas where buildings do not occupy the entire allocated Floor Space Ratio (FSR). In addition, some live/ work artist spaces are being unfairly taxed at the
        commercial assessment rate."


      • And City of Vancouver zoning policies put artists at a disadvantage. "Zoning grants rights to developers to redevelop, but does not protect existing artist spaces that are lost to redevelopment. The outcome is net loss of artist studio space."

      While the study acknowledges and commends the City of Vancouver’s recent Cultural Shift: Blanketing the City in Arts and Culture, a 10-year strategic planning policy for expanding arts and cultural funding and capacity building,  its points out some problems. The policy aims to secure 650,000 square feet of repurposed or new cultural space over the next 10 years. But the study points out, "This policy fails to establish artistic discipline specific targets and also does not distinguish between spaces of production and exhibition."

      The ECCS's Displacement forum events continue this Saturday (October 26); see more info here.

      Glass Onion Studios was one of the most recent losses in the Eastside Art District; 30 artists have had to move out of the space.