Supporters of the W2 media arts centre in the Woodward’s building are raising concerns about community access to the space following the closure of the Media Café and the suspension of all evening events at the site.
Scott Clark, the executive director of the organization ALIVE, or Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, told the Straight in a phone interview that the building has been a “central hub” for aboriginal, low-income and immigrant communities.
“It’s a major, significant hub, and it’s probably one of the most, if not the most, engaging non-aboriginal agencies in the city of Vancouver,” he said, noting community forums have been held there on topics including women and children’s safety, aboriginal education, child welfare, housing and homelessness. The space has also hosted arts and cultural events, including the Urban Aboriginal Winter Festival.
According to Clark, these groups have now been “effectively shut out” following the closure of the Media Café and the cancellation of evening programming. The board of the W2 Media Arts Society announced on December 18 that it would be cancelling all evening events at the building “in the face of severe financial and capacity challenges”. The city and the W2 board changed the locks on the Media Café this week. Operations at the social enterprise had been suspended late last month, but events had been scheduled in the space until the end of December.
Dethe Elza, the chair of the board, was not available for a phone interview by the Straight’s deadline, but a media notice issued by the board indicated that daytime access, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., will be maintained for public use of the lounge and meeting room on the second floor of the building.
“This organization has been operating at a loss for the past year,” the notice reads. “During this down time, the Board of Directors of the Society will work diligently with all stakeholders to create a robust new business model for W2.”
Clark said W2 supporters are also working on putting together a sustainable plan for the space, and are planning to hold community forums on the issue.
“Our number one goal is to get that space open and to negotiate with the city fairly, because W2 is the amenity in that place,” he said. “They are a community centre plus.”
According to a news release issued by the City of Vancouver today (December 20), W2 is over $95,000 in arrears to the city and has not made an amenity payment since it moved into the Woodward’s space in September 2011.
“Reports of ‘eviction’ of tenants are inaccurate,” the city’s news release stated. “The W2 Board and its sub-tenants continue to have access to their office during normal working hours. Furthermore, public access to the lounge, meeting room and computers is available during working hours. However, after hours anyone who does not have security clearance will not be granted access.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said city staff and council are committed to finding a resolution “that allows for a stable W2 moving forward”.
“There’s been a lot of financial challenges and they owe the city money, but they also have other creditors, so we’re not the only ones that are really concerned about their viability moving forward,” she told the Straight in a phone interview. “We’ve made what we feel are some extraordinary efforts to try and keep the space open.”
Reimer said the city anticipates having a recovery plan in place no later than the first quarter of 2013.
“Unfortunate for the short period of time that people are inconvenienced, but as much as possible, we’re trying to support the groups in keeping the work going,” she said.
The board of the W2 society has indicated it plans to begin a consultation process in January with community groups, arts and cultural organizations, funders, and others to seek input on a new model for the arts centre.