W2 hopes to avoid eviction from Woodward’s complex

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      Volunteer directors of the W2 Community Media Arts Society are optimistic that the nonprofit organization will be able to reach a “new agreement” with the city, despite facing a notice of eviction from its space in the Woodward’s complex.

      Dethe Elza, chair of the society’s board, said the organization was served an eviction notice by the city about two weeks ago. Two floors of the media centre were given 90 days’ notice—until the end of February—while the media café was given 30 days, until the end of December. Staff of the café, which is run by a legally separate society, were let go last month.

      “The city has served notice on W2, but they’ve expressed interest and willingness to help us form a new agreement with them, and so that’s what we’re in the process of,” Elza told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s come to our attention that the finances are in pretty rocky shape, and so we’re also coming up with plans for how to deal with that, which is fairly straightforward economics.…While we’re putting those plans into place, we’ve had to lay off some staff and reduce hours in the facility.”

      The community arts centre—which hosts various community groups, digital education workshops, cultural programming, and events—is expected to pay an $85,000 annual amenity fee for the space in the Woodward’s building, a charge it hasn’t paid since it moved in last year.

      “We’re trying to work this out,” Sid Tan, a board member of the W2 Café Community Media Arts Society, told the Straight by phone. “Really the two boards are trying to work it out, and it’s clear to me that we both have the sustainability of W2 in mind.

      “I don’t think accountants and lawyers are going to solve what is at the heart of this matter, which is the W2 vision,” Tan said. “That is only going to be solved in the political arena, and by our community.”

      In a widely circulated letter that then–W2 executive director Irwin Oostindie sent to Vancouver’s director of cultural services in February, he indicated that the organization was carrying an operating deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, of about $80,000 and a debt load of $110,000 in start-up costs.

      “W2 recognizes it will be 24-36 months until we are stable and operating at a break-even. We require time to redevelop our business plan and revise our agreement with the City of Vancouver on finishing the only public-access space in Woodward’s,” the letter read.

      Oostindie also indicated in the letter that W2 had set a target of raising $735,000 for its capital campaign, and that the City of Vancouver was “unwilling to have its investments matched by the federal government, at a key time when W2 sought matching funds from Cultural Spaces Canada”. He noted that the W2 Media Café had emerged as the busiest urban aboriginal programming space within Vancouver that wasn’t operated by an aboriginal organization.

      “This crosscultural work is vital and important within the City of Vancouver,” Oostindie wrote.

      Ellen Woodsworth, a former city councillor with the Coalition of Progressive Electors, told the Straight by phone that the annual $85,000 amenity fee was identified as a concern in previous council discussions of the issue. COPE issued a news release this week urging the City of Vancouver to significantly reduce the fee.

      “Clearly, for most arts organizations, that’s a very difficult amount to be able to pay, and for small ones and small Downtown Eastside organizations, it becomes prohibitive, and it was identified as a concern right when we were discussing it at council,” Woodsworth said. “Why should the City of Vancouver be subsidizing the large artistic productions and not some of these smaller, local groups?”

      Vancouver’s general manager of community services, Brenda Prosken, was not available for an interview with the Straight. In a December 9 statement, Mayor Gregor Robertson indicated that senior city staff have met regularly with W2’s board and executive director during the past year to “convey concerns about financial management of the organization”.

      “W2 has not been able to meet its obligations under its agreement with the City and the targets it set for itself in its original business plan,” the statement reads. “City staff continue to work with the W2 board so that a renewed and more sustainable operating model can be put in place.”

      Both the W2 Media Arts board and the W2 Café board are scheduled to have meetings next week.



      Sid Tan

      Dec 13, 2012 at 7:57am

      W2 has in fact refused to pay the $85K/year and informed the City of this fact. Council suggesting it can wash its hands of W2's structural problems with Woodward's because of a legal RFP process is a red herring.

      The property management has been hostile to W2 and does not even maintain 2 of 3 of our levels. This City-owned building does not even meets the City's own accessibility policy (despite W2 making repeated requests for 14 months).

      W2 is the ONLY community-access Woodward's amenity. Why does a $400 million development force the amenity to pay the landlord for what should have been obviously covered in the much-lauded inclusive Woodward's model.

      The City has policy in place supporting the economic viability of Woodward's by waving 10 years of taxes from Jimmy Pattison's Nestor's Market and HY Louie's London Drugs. Yet the social enterprise which employs East Vancouver Indigenous women gets charged by the City.

      The W2 situation of amenity fees for the amenity calls in question the the Woodward's model of density relaxation for community amenities. These these community benefits agreements, written by lawyers and accountants, are biased towards developers and the COV who have greater legal and financial resources than the community.

      This is truly a political issue and easily exploited by developers, a major contributor to Vision Vancouver. The COV never wanted to have W2 on the main floor retail space. We fought for it against the Portland Hotel Society, who were the only opponents at City Hall. In deed, at a city council meeting, it was Mark Townsend, executive director of PHS and another PHS staff who spoke out against us. The only two of 23 delegations.
      It seems PHS is an organisation wanting to take over the retail space as COV staff stand down on assisting W2 or, worse yet, has put obstacles in the way. This despite a local residents' advisory board recommending a media centre and W2's selection by the COV.

      This is not to say W2's situation is not of our making. We took the risk and made a success of it in every way but financial, which can and will be solved. Really, the COV should consider paying W2 for our work in community engagement and animation of media arts

      The W2 vision for a community artist-run media centre includes a green room welcoming space. Simply, a business model if necessary but not necessarily a business model.


      Dec 13, 2012 at 9:09am

      Woodsworth says: “Why should the City of Vancouver be subsidizing the large artistic productions and not some of these smaller, local groups?” I'm sorry, but $85,000 rent on a space that prime is a huge discount over market rates, and as such represents a huge subsidy.

      Rick in Richmond

      Dec 13, 2012 at 11:43am

      It should be added that W2 is regularly attacked for playing a role in the so-called gentrification of the area. The hard lefties in the DTES disparage it openly, undermine it regularly, and are glad to see it go.

      All they support is public housing on someone else's dime. They "demand" it, and attack everything else -- including W2. If W2 fails, VANDU will be pouring champagne.

      W2 gets it from both sides. It's amazing they have achieved as much as they have.

      uninformed publican

      Dec 13, 2012 at 11:52am

      The concepts upon which W2 was lifted from a sealed civic submission for a year-long artistic residency penned by a Vancouver based digital artist in 2003. In 2006 the RFP was offered only to corporate non-profit entities.

      From its outset, W2 attracted the worst of Vancouver's "digital community" rhetoric, pandering "arts partnerships" and eagerly toadying social cybersynchophants - a politically attractive demographic culturtally dominated by those eager-to-be civic political tools both locally as in the staging of W2's first show in 2009 (which was a very deliberate and directed affront to said digital artist), globally as in the 2010 Olympics social media centre.

      That said, whichever proceeds flowed to the working staff was pipelined through the murky leadership of three boards of directors of three non-profits and mess-executive management resulted in a predictable boondoggle that the plainclothesedly Robertson's Vision will likely reprise the w2-evict with crony-II-edict. Perhaps a "collective"

      DTES Artist

      Dec 13, 2012 at 11:55am

      This doesn't surprise me. They don't even respond to facility rental requests. How can you generate income if you outright ignore your costumers and community members? Artists are not exempt from financial responsibility. Nothing is free.

      Nicole Fromm

      Dec 13, 2012 at 12:05pm

      I believe originally this "Large Artistic Production" your referring to is made up of a small group of people that wanted to open up job opportunities to Aboriginal youth in the community and offer education threw the use of many different media tools to the public. The appeal that W2 will always have to me, has always been it's broad list of day and night events, as well the amount of community talks, and art lectures of all types wrapped in to one very good location, with space available to have large community lectures. I wonder how a smaller local group could afford this rent? If they could I really hope they would play the same role in the community. Big shoes to fill.

      cultural amenity

      Dec 13, 2012 at 2:46pm

      another problematic cultural amenity
      city is rife with them

      they messed up the deal with the Playhouse now they'll make a sweet deal with whatever companies are around so as to not lose face
      still not a great arrangement
      they (the city) typically have not negotiated strongly with developers for these cultural amenities, - to the detriment of the organization -- except in rare circumstances (VSO).

      Not enough people working in cultural facility planning at the City actually know how to do the job properly.


      Dec 14, 2012 at 3:00pm

      I don't understand how our community can be so mean spirited. Jimmy Pattison doesn't pay taxes... but a community group employing Downtown Eastside residents and helping support community pride, is evicted?


      Dec 18, 2012 at 12:13am

      The City is negotiating with 3 theatre companies to occupy a new theatre space that is vacant due to the demise of the Playhouse.
      The terms on the new space? $1 a year for 10 years.
      Why isn't W2 eligible for similar terms?