Artists left scrambling for studio spaces in Vancouver
// Marja-Leena Corbett

Picasso once said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In other words, as we grow older, we often begin to underestimate the importance of art. This certainly seems to be the case in Vancouver: the arts community is huge, and yet the city seems to be on an upward trend of taking away artists’ studio spaces, their places to work and, consequentially, a huge part of their identity. Without space to create, many artists who are struggling to make a living are forced to pack up and leave this beautiful city, whereas some end up taking work in the trades as a means of survival.

The solution seems simple: artists need places to work. They need support from the city, and for officials to truly understand the importance of the arts community in Vancouver. It seems the city is falling short.


The Juice Man is Gregor Robertson, current Mayor of Vancouver and well-known as the founder and former CEO of the company Happy Planet Foods; thus, his nickname “the juice man”. A website has been set up by local artists in support of Robertson and the Vision Vancouver team, called These artists show their support by submitting their creative contributions to the website and by holding fundraisers.

Cameron Reed of “We Back the Juice Man” explains further: “We are supporters of Vision Vancouver and wanted to inject a little fun into the campaign. As cultural organizers, actors, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and comedians ourselves, we thought the best way to support was to provide something creative and engaging.” As he puts it, “Vision is doing a great deal to support the local arts community.

For instance, despite the recession and every other level of government cutting funding to the arts, Vision did not. They have made themselves incredibly accessible to the community.” In response to “We Back the Juice Man”, a blog was created called wedontbackthejuiceman. This blog has been a powerful tool for the local artists who are opposed to Robertson and Vision, and believe he is instilling false hope in people. Could it be that the Juice Man is deceiving us?

"If Vision were serious about supporting the arts, they would deal with the housing crisis in Vancouver and own up to the promises they made regarding social housing and the empty condo tax," says Joseph Hirabayashi, a musician who is heavily involved with Vancouver’s music scene and plays in multiple bands, including media darlings The SSRI’s. "If market housing and gentrification continues to be a norm in Vancouver, I will one day be forced to move away from my hometown."

SPEAKING OUT Art is everywhere. It is an incredible force that brings people together, because everyone in the world can enjoy it, whatever language, nationality, or cultural identity. Art is universal and is a way of connecting us with tourists from other places, with each other, and most importantly, with ourselves. Without it, “how do any new ideas get sparked? There is just nowhere for young artists, or any artists for that matter, to just experiment and explore and work with new ideas. How does anything get done if you can’t afford to go do it?” notes Brad Gough of East Van Studios.

Gough believes that the city of Vancouver is nowhere near as understanding of artists and their needs as they should be. “People don’t realize how important art is, and that it isn’t just about a painting. Even when you talk to people in sports who think that the arts are a waste of time, you have to just remind them, who designed your uniform? Who composed your song? Who choreographed your cheerleaders? They don’t understand where art is even involved in sports. Without these people, then how does any of that get done?”

The issue lies within the city council and its developers. As Gough expresses, “I’d like to see Robertson put his money where his mouth is … I’ve heard the talk for too many years, let’s see the action. Nothing is done, and I don’t know where anybody young is supposed to live, work and do anything and be able to afford it in this town. It’s impossible.”

Renting a place to live is hard enough on its own without also scraping up enough money to rent a studio space. “I mean, how do you go rent something for $4,000 a month and then pay that off? You can’t live there as well. That’s how they make that happen, you can’t live in the space because it’s not zoned or safe. They have to sort of relax the zoning in areas.”

“I blame all of the developers who move in to an area. I blame the restrictions for not allowing exhibitions in places because they’re just so strict on the guidelines on where you can actually do things,” say Gough. He goes on to explain that the art in our city is too regulated. Rather, he believes that art should be allowed to be more spontaneous: with the way things currently are in Vancouver, artists have to go through a multitude of steps and procedures to produce and display their artwork for the general public.


With an increasing amount of places losing money and being forced to shut down, the arts community cannot grow without a solid ground to base itself on.

Sobey Wing, local producer and event organizer of the Tribal Harmonix dance community, is part of an effort to create a space to be called the Intention Centre. It is inspired by a winter retreat called Intention that has been happening on the outskirts of the Lower Mainland for 12 years, which aims to build community that intersects through electronic dance music, live music, arts, healing modalities, sustainability, social activism, and non-sectarian spirituality.

The vision is “a space where we can have an ongoing daily development of our community expression without having to take everything down after each event. The programs we’d offer and our celebrations would allow us an opportunity to reach further levels of maturity in the art of community. We'd be able to offer more to people than booking venues elsewhere including a stable space for families and children to participate in our community. We would have workshops that build skills, our expression, and sustainability.”

Maybe what the general public needs is a wake-up call to what we’re lacking in today’s consumer based society. As Wing expresses, “When people feel a connection to community, it can change people’s lives; when they are able to share their gifts and witness each other in our rites of passage throughout life … Through having a home for community, we can build greater resiliency in the world that is changing rapidly. As you can see with Occupy Vancouver, people really want to be in a village-like environment where inter-generational connectivity occurs and shared values can be realized in an active way.”

Community is what this is all about. Without adequate physical spaces, there is no place for arists, healers, and change agents to bring forward inspiration and renewal of our culture.


Food and art: what a delectable combination. Although many galleries are closing their doors, our addiction to caffeine and love of quality pastries has kept the doors of many independent cafés open, some of which offer their space as a venue to be used by local community groups and artists. This is a symbiotic relationship, with the community gaining by having new spaces for art, and the cafés gaining new customers. One such place is the Rhizome Café, which boasts great food, events, and activism, as well as art. Co-founder of the Rhizome Café, Lisa Moore, explains, “We’re a hub for the social justice communities. We do a lot of work with many different community groups that are working on issues related to social justice, whether that be migrant justice or indigenous sovereignty, or environmental justice. As well, we host events in coordination with those groups three or four times every week.”

The Rhizome is an important venue for all members of the community, where nearly 200 events are held each year. There is also a meeting room which can be rented out for classes and workshops “for activists and organizers who are working around social justice issues” to plan and discuss their ideas. As Moore explains, “In general, we host a lot of performances, whether that be literary events, music, or visual arts, and that’s the way we participate as part of an arts community.”

Although the Rhizome appears to be going strong, this café, amongst many others, has been facing financial constraints. While this can be taxing, according to Moore, the Rhizome is not at risk of closing. Fortunately they have a supportive community behind them, and appealing to the community for financial support is “very much in line with how we [The Rhizome] want to operate.”

They want to be a community supported space, and this is a new way for them to do that. “In a city that is so expensive, it’s hard to maintain community spaces, which is why we’re taking on this new initiative,” says Moore.

She is not the only one with this inspiring mindset. Café Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive hosts entertainment every night, and displays rotating artwork from local artists. Similarly, the Naam Restaurant also has daily live music and regular art shows. As well, the Waldorf Hotel is known for offering a very wide range of art, music, food, culture, and ongoing events. The Nuba Café serves Lebanese cuisine, and the creative minds of Cameron Reed, Lisa Delux, Patrick Campbell, and many more are all a part of the Waldorf’s creative community.

Raw Canvas puts a real spin on eating out, with a dynamic and extremely unique set up involving good food, wine, and art, making for an entirely different way of socializing. The front of the lounge is where the bar and tables are, and in the back, a variety of canvases are set up, along with all the other necessary supplies to create a painting.


Several other cafes have put up a good fight before finally submitting themselves to the poor economy. The Soma Cafe, another very art-involved cafe on Main St., has changed locations, and the Aurora Cafe has closed down. As well, Nyala Restaurant on Main St. is closing in November. The many galleries that have been shut down include the Lido Gallery, the Grace Gallery, and the Dianne Farris Gallery.

Luck is far out of reach for many artists and musicians. The Red Gate is a cultural facility that provides a space for artists to collaborate and create, and is 100 per cent self-funded and self-organized. After seven solid years, the city has issued an order to vacate, leaving many artists and musicians at a complete loss as to what to do, and more importantly, where to go.

Two galleries that have not gotten as much attention from the media are Access Gallery and The Jem Gallery. Both are being evicted from their spaces. These galleries are hard-working and dedicated to showcasing both emerging and established artists. Access is geared more towards contemporary art, while The Jem Gallery focuses on underground artists.

With the amount of artists that are being evicted from their galleries and studios, there seems to be an unequal emphasis placed on the arts in Vancouver. If the city council is unable to step up to the plate and show their support, it is up to the rest of the Vancouver population to be understanding of artists at this time, and to set a leading example. THE


This is not to say that everyone in Vancouver is neglecting the importance of art. The youth in Vancouver have a powerful voice that deserves attention.

The Purple Thistle, for example, is a youthrun centre that is an “alternative-to-school community institution for youth on the Eastside of Vancouver.” This is a place dedicated to activism and the arts. It was founded in 2001 by Matt Hern, and has been growing ever since.

“We run a 2,500 square foot resource centre that has a ton of supplies, tools, materials, classes, and workshops, and it’s all free. There’s a library, bike-fixing shop, computer lab, silkscreening room, animation facility, and lots else. And maybe best of all, the whole thing is run by a youth collective that controls all the day to day operations and really runs the place.” The services at the Purple Thistle are almost all free, and include classes and workshops, as well as the use of supplies and equipment.

The Purple Thistle has four options to choose from for people who want to use its resources. It is open in the afternoons and evenings for drop-in, where people are free to use supplies to work on any project, or can bring a group of friends and collaborate on ideas. The second option is the many different projects and classes. There are drawing, photography, silk-screening, web design and even gardening classes, plus specific classes for younger children. During the day, there are full-time, paid training programs. The central focus is on arts, community work, and activism.

Perhaps, open art spaces for youth such as the Purple Thistle that inspire radical ideas and encourage creative enthusiasm could mean an implementation of change in Vancouver.

//Marja-Leena Corbett, Writer
//Illustrations by Katie So

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