Howe Street Studios open with print-making, a new public artwork, and a plea

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      Artists from Malaspina Printmakers Society and elsewhere gathered this morning to celebrate the official opening of a 10,800-square-foot purpose-built artist production facility at at the base of a 41-storey condo tower at 1265 Howe Street.

      Called Howe Street Studios, it houses 16 artist spaces gathered around a central atrium, with Malaspina Printmakers on the ground floor, and individual studios on the second floor. 

      Brian McBay, executive director of the nonprofit 221A that is leasing out the space at the city-owned property, stressed the importance of opening an artists' hub in such a central location. "Let this be the start of the process of the reemergence of cultural production in the downtown core," he said at today's press conference, stressing the crisis in affordability for art-makers in this city.

      The new atrium has allowed space-crunched Malaspina Printmakers to finally put into use a massive Para Press donated by artist Michael de Courcy, a core member of the legendary Intermedia Society. And it's been able to double its space from the 2,500 square feet it maintains on Granville Island. Other than access to the large-scale printer, the space has 17 artists sharing studios devoted to printmaking in relation to photography, sculpture, and other media (a nod to Intermedia). Malaspina also gains two exhibition spaces in the front windows on Howe Street.

      Germaine Koh's art installation in the front windows of Howe Street Studios.

      Vancouver artist Germaine Koh has designed a new public artwork called Set Pieces for the main front windows, moving layers of coloured nets that evoke opening and closing theatre curtains, office blinds, construction mesh, and fishing nets. "I wanted to create something that would complement the activities in here rather than something that would overshadow them," Koh explained. "So I decided to treat the large display windows here as a kind of 'stage'....It suggests the daily dramas and that something is always going to be created in the wings here, beyond the 'curtains'."

      Amid the ribbon-cutting, it became clear that the Merrick Architecture-designed project is just a small start to addressing the artists' space crisis happening as a result of rising real-estate costs in this city. The project has been in the works since at least 2012; in the intervening years, artists have lost thousands of square feet of production and living space.

      McBay referred to a new displacement study (City Without Art? No Net Loss+) that found nearly 400,000 square feet of cultural space has been lost in the city, mostly to artists. "We have to do better than this," stressed McBay.

      Underscoring his warning, artist Tiziana La Melia, one of the new occupants of an upstairs space in Howe Street Studios, broke down in tears during the press conference as she recalled the substandard spaces she's had to use to create her work until now. "I want to recognize that we are the fortunate few that are able to afford the subsidized costs of the studios," she said. "I'll be interested how those involved in the process can do more."

      She said her previous spaces have been "small, unhealthy to occupy, and precarious", including two 10-by-10-foot spaces with black mould, others with no heat and the ever-present threat of eviction. "I hope this is a sign of more things to come," she said, pausing to compose herself, "and for a process that takes into consideration the precarity of marginalized artists." She said a lack of space and poor conditions have forced an entire generation of artists in their 30s to leave Vancouver. 

      For his part, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the new Culture|Shift strategic plan for 2020-2029 (previously known as the Creative City Strategy) will prioritize creating new artist spaces. Among its measures is the stated goal of securing 800,000 square feet of affordable cultural infrastructure, and launching an Affordable Cultural Spaces grant stream to support nonprofits that give subsidized affordable space to artists and arts groups.

      The nonprofit 221A is one such group; in the case of Howe Street Studios, it helps allocate subsidies to keep the space affordable. 

      One of the individual working spaces in Howe Street Studios.

      The space was secured through a Community Amenity Contribution, whereby the condo developer received increased density from the city in exchange for providing a community asset. It's part of the Tate Downtown development.

      Studio tenancy was considered through 221A's application process and peer-assessment committee, and will operate on three-year cycles. Applicants were assessed on economic need, material suitability, as well as quality and contribution to their field and the city.The next intake is scheduled for fall 2022. 

      Artist Cheryl Hamilton of i.e. creative works with Val Loewen on the new Para Press.