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Artist Aileen Bahmanipour poses for a photograph at the new artist spaces at the Tate building at 1265 Howe Street, in Vancouver, on Dec. 6, 2019.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The first city-owned multi-artist studio has opened in Vancouver in an effort to restore cultural spaces lost because of high rents and redevelopment – even as another facility is being forced out later this month.

More than 20 artists will work out of the 10,800-square-foot Howe Street Studios, which was provided to the city by Bonds Group of Companies as an in-kind community amenity contribution (CAC) in exchange for the approval of a mixed-use property that includes a 41-storey residential building.

The non-profit group 221A will oversee the use of the space, charging artists below-market rates meant only to cover operational costs.

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The studio officially opened Friday. But for other artist organizations and small businesses, the push for more action on sky-high property taxes to avoid losing their buildings continues.

B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement on Thursday that “there will be relief in place for businesses for the 2020 tax year.” Details of the “interim solution” are still being worked out by staff.

This is the first time that the city is offering its own space for a multi-artist production studio. There are two more spaces the city will acquire from developers in 2021, including one with 30 units of social housing for artists.

Aileen Bahmanipour is one of a few visual artists who have moved into the Howe Street space from Dynamo Arts Association, which is losing its studio later this month as a result of being evicted for a renovation.

“I found myself as kind of a lucky person,” she said, adding that while she is “grateful and happy to have a space to continue working” the rent is still higher than her Dynamo studio and the sense of community doesn’t feel the same.

The launch of Howe Street Studios offers artists a high-quality, regulated and safe facility to create, but 221A co-founder and executive director Brian McBay said that the building is just a first step.

“To be honest it’s not a home run,” he said, pointing to a recent study by the Eastside Culture Crawl Society that found 400,000 square feet of artist studio space was lost in Vancouver over the past decade. “Replacing it with 10,000 square feet of space, it’s not going to be the be all and end all. There’s a lot more to be done.”

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Vancouver’s arts community calls for action as cultural spaces close

There’s also the inherent tension around a new property that’s providing artist space while also playing a role in gentrification, which is hurting low-income communities such as artists.

“It’s a contradiction that needs to be understood and questioned, especially if the City of Vancouver considers itself to have a diverse economy in the future,” Mr. McBay said.

Mr. McBay’s organization is examining the potential of a cultural land trust, which would work toward acquiring a stable of buildings owned and operated by artists.

The city’s 10-year cultural plan raises a land trust as a possibility and mentions a $4.8-million fund that would help support artists.

In the meantime, many are feeling the pinch.

Beaumont Studios recently received a one-time crisis grant of $55,000 from the City of Vancouver to help pay off debt owed to the landlord. “It’s a really great start, we’re just really fearful that it’s not enough and that it’s too late,” said Jude Kusnierz, Beaumont’s founder and executive director.

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In addition to her space, Ms. Kusnierz worries that smaller groups and businesses that don’t have access to grants could close if action on property taxes doesn’t come fast.

Red Gate Arts Society, a studio and performance space on Main Street, launched a crowd-funding campaign on Friday to help cover the costs of property taxes that increased $1,500 to $4,300 a month earlier this year. Founder and director Jim Carrico said he needs to pay a $9,000 bill by the end of January or face immediate eviction.

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