By Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun: J
Painters, writers and other artists looking for Vancouver studio space to exercise their creativity may soon have significantly more lease opportunities to choose from.
The city is moving ahead with plans to expand its zoning bylaw to allow for “work-only” art studios in all its industrial districts.
Right now, most artists are restricted from renting in many of the industrial zones. Only welders and those considered “high-impact” artists have been the exception.
Should the necessary zoning change be approved, the amount of studio space artists would be eligible to rent would increase from two million square feet in 70 acres of industrial lands to 28 million sq. ft. in nearly 1,300 acres.
Council will cast its final vote on the matter after hearing from the public likely later this month or early February.
The move comes as the city looks to boost support for the more than 8,000 Vancouver residents working in artistic professions.
“These artists have achieved worldwide renown in visual/media arts, music, theatre, dance, literary arts, interdisciplinary arts and other art forms,” according to a staff policy report prepared for council.
And while the local creative sector is vibrant, artists struggle to find and keep affordable studio space. The problem is intensified by the low wages typically earned by artists — estimated to be 36 per cent lower than the overall Vancouver labour force.
What space is affordable often isn’t suitable. A 2008 city study of cultural facilities found nearly two-thirds of artists surveyed said their production space did not meet their needs.
Painter Neil Wedman liked the idea, but said he isn’t certain the city’s bid to open up industrial districts to artists is enough to solve the larger problem of affordability.
Wedman recently lost his own studio space on Marine Drive when the property was sold for redevelopment. He hasn’t been able to find anything suitable in his price range since then.
“It’s $2 a square foot anywhere you go. Sometimes you get lucky and can find $1 a square foot,” he said.
Wedman said the city should allow artists to both live and work in industrial studio space, making it possible for someone to pay one rent instead of two.
“Right now, you have to pay for an apartment and rent a studio ... It’s like renting another apartment,” he said.
Wedman, who also teaches at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design and Simon Fraser University, said young artists are hurt the most by the city’s high studio rents. Most are forced to share spaces with several other artists, a situation that can cause its own problems with people coming and going, or failing to pay their share of the rent.
“I have heard of people leaving (the city.) A lot of young people move to New Westminster and they kind of branch out from there,” he said.
The city report recommends against a live-work zoning for artists, noting a residential clause would put upward pressure on industrial land prices.
“Work-only” artist studios “pose few concerns regarding compatibility with other industrial uses,” it states.