A Vancouver zoning change to create work space for artists doesn’t solve the real problem they face, emerging artists say.
The zoning change passed on Feb. 5 allows artists to rent work-only studios in any industrial area, expanding the potential pool of rental spaces from two million square feet to 28 million square feet.
“Right now, myself and other artists I know work from home because our house rent is so high, not just our studio rent. When you compound those two it really becomes a problem,” said Randy Grskovic, 31, who has run multiple studios in the city.
Vancouver has the highest number of artists per capita in the country, with 8,000 artists living in the city.
“Industrial zones are the most affordable space in the city,” said Councillor Heather Deal. Ms. Deal, a long-time champion of arts in the city, said the decision gives artists access to land that other small businesses already had.
Neelam Kler, a 28-year old artist trained in integrated media, welcomes this change but won’t benefit from it because she prefers to have a space where she can live and work. Ms. Kler currently works in the basement of the home she rents in the Commercial Drive area, an arrangement that works for her and her two roommates.
She hopes the city will protect artists from a sharp rise in studio rent because often as artists move into new neighbourhoods, gentrification follows, driving prices up and artists out.
“It creates a pattern with artists always having to take the lowest-value property,” Ms. Kler said.
Ms. Deal said she understands that concern, but the city can’t control rent, it can only control land use.
“We didn’t want live/work [studios] in industrial zones because then the price value pops up,” Ms. Deal said. She added that property value will continue to increase, but the city’s goal is to ensure artists have access to the “cheapest land base.”
The city’s repurposing of industrial land is part of a larger bid to support the arts, including a recent partnership to provide 40 work-only studios at 281 Industrial Ave. and provide nine vacant properties rent-free for artist use.
Mr. Grskovic has to look for new studio space constantly. Over the past two years, he has managed two group studios, Good Luck Gallery and Cutty Contemporary. Cutty Contemporary was located at Beatty and West Pender streets, a 5,000-square-foot space that served as shared studio space to as many as 20 artists at a time until January, 2012. The space was only available for a year – its affordable price tag was a result of the building being slated to be torn down for development.
Mr. Grskovic said part of the problem is that city politicians view artists as small businesses rather than contributors to vibrant communities.
“For arts and culture to thrive, we can’t put it in the market. The market has to come after,” he said.
Mr. Grskovic appreciates city support but wants more rent-free and low-cost live/work studios. He points to a program that provides city-owned and leased live/work studios at a low cost for three years. The problem is the program only takes four people at a time, while the last round saw 60 applicants.
Programs like these are part of a fair exchange for Mr. Grskovic. He says artists provide free programming for the city, using free admission to small galleries as an example.
“The city needs to give back,” he said.