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Tucked between train tracks, highways, and industrial buildings is a thriving queer community hub. This is the Warehouse, also known as Eastside Studios, which has played host to everyone from drag performers to bands to would-be documentarians, as well as the beloved Eastside Flea. For many LGBTQ2S+ people this old industrial site feels like home. But after five years awaiting demolition, the time has finally come for the building to be leveled. But as the building awaits a date to be leveled, the organizers will have to relocate—and we can only hope that they can find a new venue as supportive as the Warehouse.
“Queer joy is one of the biggest things I feel when I'm in the space,” Ryn Broz, one of the organizers, tells the Straight. “Especially after the pandemic, I think everyone is really joyful about having a physical space where they can express themselves.”
Known for shows like Continental Circus and Man Up (Vancouver’s longest-running drag show), the Warehouse has also provided a platform for the queer community’s creativity, hosting premieres of documentaries (like Queer Vancouver) and renting out studios to artists.
Run by women and trans folks, the Warehouse organizers aim to support the most vulnerable within the community, offering subsidized rent to marginalized and BIPOC artists. “Being able to work in a fully queer space allows a sense of freedom and joy that can be hard to find elsewhere,” says Sam Schmidt, who helps manage the buddy system, an effort to increase safety and decrease stigma at the Warehouse’s party nights.
And that’s the crux of the issue: it’s the Warehouse’s inclusivity that makes it so special.
Queer parties can feel oddly divisive, catered to specific sub-groups within the LGBTQ2S+ community. Trans people are often pushed out, BIPOC performers face barriers, and anyone who doesn’t fit into a neat category can feel isolated or, at worst, ostracized. Yet the Warehouse has always been a place of diversity and fluidity. As someone who has frequented queer events from Berlin to Chicago, I can say that it’s rare to step into a queer venue and see the entire community represented. The Warehouse is such a venue.
Which is why it needs to survive.
Anyone who frequents the Warehouse has been aware that its time was running out. “We’ve always known that the space is going to get torn down,” says Broz, explaining that Eastside Studios rented it as a demolition-marked building. That was five years ago, and since then the organizers have received multiple extensions from their landlord, allowing them to continue to run events.
“We’re trying to create community spaces with limited means, and limited support from the city,” Broz explains, “which means we can only operate in buildings that are going to get torn down.”
Thanks to increasingly unaffordable rents for long-term leases, independent organizations like Eastside Studios rent demo-buildings because that’s the only way they can operate—but the impermanence of supportive venues increases the vulnerability of an already vulnerable community. Sure, the Warehouse organizers will probably find a new space, but what about the next, and the next? LGBTQ2S+ people have a history of displacement. If queer community organizers struggle just to establish a space to operate in Vancouver, that legacy of being pushed to the margins will continue.
And the precarity of arts venues does have an impact on Vancouver’s culture at large. Just in terms of drag, the Warehouse—and other Vancouver venues like it—support a diverse range of performers that is unusual in the wider scene, offering a stage to trans, BIPOC, non-binary, and female performers who get far less exposure in other cities. Thanks to the efforts of community organizers, Vancouver boasts a unique environment of queer culture—but if communities like the Warehouse’s cannot find a home, that uniqueness will not survive.
If Vancouver wants its culture to thrive, the city might need to take steps to protect marginalized communities from being forced out as rents continue to rise.
But the story isn’t over yet. Eastside Studios’ organizers are already looking for other venues, and they’re hopeful they’ll be able to find another building soon—with any luck, somewhere that can house their resident artists while allowing them to host events. February is the last month for parties at the Warehouse, and the organizers have planned a full slate of shows, culminating in their last hurrah: a fundraising party on the 24th, and a Man Up show on the 25th. There will also be several Eastside Flea markets in March, and staff hope that the markets could continue on through the year. Depending on the situation, there's even the possibility that parties could return in the summer for Pride—though still on borrowed time.
“Seeing how well-attended events were this year,” says Broz, “we realized how necessary this space is, and how spaces like this allow growth.”
Now more than ever, we need venues like the Warehouse which enable us to come together, create art, share experiences, and build something for ourselves. But even as the Warehouse finally closes its doors, its community isn’t going anywhere. And hopefully, they will soon find a new place to call home.
The Warehouse's Goodbye, Farewell party takes place on February 24. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
Feb. 10, 5.00pm: This story was updated to reflect that fact that there may be potential for more events to happen beyond March.