“It’s heartbreaking”: The Beaumont Studios, facing closure, launches crowdfunding campaign
When glass artist Jude Kusnierz opened the Beaumont Studios in a black box theatre on the corner of 5th Avenue and Alberta Street in 2004, there was a clear view of the North Shore peaks. She named the artist studio space Beaumont—French for “beautiful mountain”—in part because of the breathtaking vista.
The space expanded, taking over the building next door, and becoming home to nearly 100 artists across dozens of studios, as well as a gallery, events space, boutique, and community radio station. As towers went up and the neighbourhood gentrified, the mountains were obscured. But the Beaumont remained.
Then the pandemic happened—and, with it, the spike in real estate costs.
“We have three different event spaces that we rent out, but [for] the vast majority of that period of time, we were unable to host events of any particular capacity,” Luke Summers, the Beaumont Studios’ operations director, explained over the phone. “But probably more of a reason why we find ourselves in this situation right now is just the ever, ever increasing costs of our property taxes as a result of [the] spiraling cost of real estate.”
After three years of rapidly increasing overheads, the Beaumont has launched a crowdfunding campaign, Save the Beaumont, with a bleak message: the creative community space is in jeopardy.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that something that’s so loved and appreciated by so much of the community is actually not able to sustain [itself],” Kusnierz, Beaumont’s founder and executive director, told the Straight. “There’s absolutely no reason for the space not to be successful, because there [are] so many people that come in here every day.”
Summers said that since 2019, property taxes had risen by 20 per cent to roughly $123,000 per year. The two-storey, two-building art space’s property tax rate is also calculated based on its maximum allowable development height—six storeys.
“We’re basically paying property taxes on a six-storey building, even as a two-storey building, because it could potentially be a six-storey building,” Summers said. “That puts renters, especially organizations and non-profits, at a particular disadvantage because we’re essentially paying tax on four storeys that don’t exist.”
While Vancouver approved a property tax relief pilot last week that is designed to help ease the tax burden on small businesses and community partners that occupy buildings with “development potential,” Summers said the math didn’t add up, given the 10.7 per cent tax increase that’s in the works.
“We may look at getting an $8,800 a year decrease, which is representative of about seven per cent,” he said. “When you do the math on that, we’re not really convinced that we will even see a reduced property tax rate for 2024. If anything, we may actually see a small increase.”
And a core part of the Beaumont’s mandate is affordability. When it’s already expensive for artists and creatives to rent a separate workspace, jacking up rent on individual studios to cover the increasing rent and property tax bill didn’t fit with the vision.
“We try our best to subsidize rents as much as we possibly can, so we do everything we can not to increase rent for the people who rent our studios, and try to come up with different ways to generate enough revenue,” Summers said.
The crowdfunding campaign was considered for months before it was announced. “We wouldn’t have gotten to this point of going to GoFundMe and looking to get community donations if we didn’t know the situation was urgent enough that it required it,” Summers said.
Kusnierz added that “choosing to have this campaign was a very big decision for us, because it’s showing a vulnerability and a weakness in our suit of armour.”
Within the first few days of launching, the GoFundMe campaign has raised $13,500 of its $42,000 goal. According to Kusnierz, that amount will help with “triage” while the Beaumont takes stock of its situation and works out what to do next.
“The feedback has been—it brings tears to my eyes. It’s been so overwhelming to know how much we’ve impacted the community,” she said, adding that bands, artists and creatives who started off at the Beaumont, and have since moved on to bigger and better places, have been reaching out. “The stories are endless, and so it’s been very, very special.”
Ultimately, Kusnierz would love the organization to have some kind of long-term stability, whether through buying a space, sorting out sponsorships, or making deals with developers if the current building is expanded vertically.
In the meantime, the organizers are optimistic that the fundraiser will generate enough revenue to keep the Beaumont afloat. Art spaces are vital to the fabric of the city, and losing the Beaumont would mean so much more than just artists being displaced, Kusnierz said.
“We often get called a studio, but we’re so much more than that,” she said. “It’s the cross-pollination and collaboration… It’s the foundation of community and creativity. Art spaces just give an opportunity for people to come together and explore that.