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In Vancouver, there’s little space to be creative

Finding affordable studios for visual artists in Vancouver is a tall order, but Jenifer Papararo is game to participate in helping find solutions.

The curator at the Contemporary Art Gallery is worried about the lack of working space, saying that many artists have left the city after being squeezed out by Vancouver's housing crunch.

Even with the real estate market softening last month across much of the region, prices have been steady on Vancouver's east side, which has been targeted by city officials for creating new space for artists.

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"I think that is a real key problem here – not being able to afford a work space," Ms. Papararo says. She notes that many artists need a separate work area from where they live due to the nature of what they produce, whether it be to avoid fumes from using solvents to clean up after oil painting or needing a large room to assemble complex sculptures.

While not every artist's space is messy, it is important to have a dedicated work environment. "I know people who are spending $2,000 a month in rent for a studio," Ms. Papararo says. "It is a very serious concern, and I do believe that there has been a cultural drain away from Vancouver, especially in the visual arts."

With that sobering thought in mind, she is embracing a collaboration with Mo Yeung International Enterprise Ltd., the developer of a six-storey condo project in Mount Pleasant.

There will be 45 condos when the complex opens in the spring of 2014. But an additional unit, called Art Studio 45, will have 900 square feet of ground-level space allocated rent-free for 12 months for a visual artist. That individual will be selected by an independent jury. If all goes well, a new artist will rotate through the unit every 12 months.

Vancouver needs to "keep the young, creative, next generation here. We don't want to drive them out, we want to keep them here," says Ameet Johal of Fifth Avenue Real Estate Marketing, which is helping to promote the condos. "We're doing our little piece."

The condo complex, dubbed Collection 45, has a front entrance on East 8th Avenue that faces the back-lane parking lot of the Congee Noodle House, while the back looks onto the Sarah McLachlan School of Music located on the second floor across the alley. For those on Collection 45's upper floors, there will be a panoramic view of the North Shore mountains, a perk that is included for owners who pay roughly $720,000 for their suite with roof-top patio.

Nearby, artists at the Nice Cafe can afford the $4.95 breakfast, but bemoan the shortage of art quarters in their neighbourhood.

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Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs, who values Mount Pleasant as one of the hotbed neighbourhoods for artist activity, welcomes the private-sector contribution from any developer.

"The long and short of it is that there is more space out there in the private sector than people realize," Mr. Meggs says. "It is very expensive in Vancouver, and rents have been rising, even in industrial areas."

The City of Vancouver will continue to do what it can, including plans to convert two industrial warehouses on Vancouver's east side for low-rent studios, Mr. Meggs adds.

As well, the Vancouver Park Board selected local artists this week to participate in its program to open up seven field houses. The city also points to its support for Performing Arts Lodges, which gives priority to residents age 55 and over.

Whether it is the public or private sector, artists say it is crucial to remember Vancouver's history of having a strong arts community.

"It's great that the City of Vancouver is doing what it can, but it's still a drop in the bucket," says Carmen Rosen, artistic director of the Still Moon Arts Society.

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