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Councillor Heather Deal says a zoning overhaul would make it easier for arts and culture groups to hold events legally while ensuring safety measures are addressed. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)
Councillor Heather Deal says a zoning overhaul would make it easier for arts and culture groups to hold events legally while ensuring safety measures are addressed. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

CULTURE

City to vote on live music in small venues Add to ...

A pilot project that would green-light live music in coffee shops, nighttime events at retail stores and concerts in old warehouses may soon be the latest addition to Vancouver’s evolving arts and culture landscape.

City council will vote Tuesday on whether to send to a public hearing the Arts and Culture Indoor Event Pilot Program, a two-year experiment aimed at drawing such small-scale events up from the underground while bolstering the local scene.

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City staff estimate between 250 and 500 events take place every year without approval, according to a report to council. Councillor Heather Deal says the pilot – which would primarily be a zoning overhaul – would make it easier for arts and culture groups to hold such events legally while ensuring safety measures and neighbourhood considerations are addressed.

“We’re going to make sure that we’re keeping people safe, but not make the regulations so onerous that no one can ever pass them,” said Ms. Deal, who called the proposed project a game-changer.

Under the city’s building bylaw, events are prohibited from having gatherings of people in spaces not rated for assembly use. This means an art gallery owner wishing to have a jazz trio play might have to undergo a full building upgrade – adding features such as additional exits and full wheelchair accessibility – to meet assembly use standards.

The gallery owner might also have to seek approval from multiple departments such as the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

Under the pilot project, an event organizer would be permitted intermittent, small-scale events of an artistic or cultural nature in buildings not approved for assembly occupancy as long as basic life-safety requirements – such as well-marked exits and smoke detectors – are met. He or she would have a single point of contact at City Hall under a simplified licensing process, with the exception of outside agencies for food and alcohol.

Organizers looking to serve alcohol must obtain a special-occasion licence from the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch and staff members must obtain Serving it Right certificates. The city will then mandate supervisory staffing levels based on crowd size and safety requirements, such as age checks and last-call times.

If passed, the pilot could help disperse arts and culture events from condensed entertainment districts, Ms. Deal said.

“I would love to see small, live music events in neighbourhoods throughout the city, in retail areas,” she said. “There is no reason for a store to be closed at night that could have something going on in the evenings, as well. It might liven up some of our quieter business areas in the evenings.”

The proposal is the latest attempt by the city to bolster local arts and culture. Last week, council unanimously approved zoning bylaw changes to allow “work-only” art studios in the city’s industrial districts. The move expanded the potential space for artists to rent to 28 million square feet from 2 million square feet.

Ms. Deal called the moves part of a “sweeping change” for the local arts and culture communities.

“These are major, major pieces that have been in the works for years,” she said. “These are game-changers.”

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