BY SARAH BERMAN, OPENFILE
Since the Red Gate artist studio was shut down in October 2011, former manager Jim Carrico has been busy looking for another affordable haven for artists.
“I’ve been riding my bike around, putting the word out,” Carrico explains, estimating that he’s researched between 20 and 30 new locations. “The main thing we’re looking for is studio space, rehearsal space, production space—a place where people can afford to make art.”
“Affordable” is not an easy thing to come by in Vancouver, says Carrico, but at 281 Industrial Avenue, the price was just right: $8,500 per month. “It’s a bit bigger, but not by much,” he says. “It’s more or less like all three floors of the Red Gate side by side.”
Though the rent didn’t quite match the former Hastings location, Carrico says it was reasonable for a collective of working artists. “It was more than we had been paying before, but way less than anything else we looked at.”
But the 20,000 square-foot vacant building (which formerly stored movie props) comes with a catch. The City of Vancouver owns the building, and pulled it off the market earlier this year.
“As far as I know it’s just sitting empty right now,” says Carrico, who sent the City a proposal to lease the building as artist studios in mid-February. Such an agreement would double Vision’s election promise of creating 10,000 square feet of creative space.
But the City has been slow to react to the Red Gate’s offer. Councillor Geoff Meggs says council is waiting for a report on a motion raised February 14, which sought to explore new ways of leasing space to artists on a “cost-recovery” basis.
“Council has to see a report before any of these issues come up,” says Meggs. “Once that happens, I hope very quickly, there would be [a Request for Proposal] process or something of that sort to ensure everyone interested has a fair crack at the space.”
Vancouver’s real estate department is considering cultural uses for 281 Industrial, along with other locations. “The City is exploring options to help meet the need of the artistic community,” says John Breckner, assistant director of Vancouver’s real estate portfolio. “We are investigating the potential of a number of city-owned buildings,” he adds. “Part of the building known as 281 Industrial Avenue is included in that review.”
Both Meggs and Breckner say the City will report its findings “at a later date,” but could not offer a concrete timeline.
Carrico and other artists have expressed concern over the lengthy bureaucratic process, which can favour large developers. “Is this the usual glacial pace at City Hall? Probably,” he says. “But maybe somebody has a plan for the building, or they just want to tear the whole thing down.”
In the last week, nearly 300 people have signed a petition in support of the Red Gate proposal. Author Timothy Taylor, whose latest book was recently nominated for a CBC Bookie award, weighed in on the Red Gate’s predicament yesterday. “The Blue Light Project might never have been written were it not for the Red Gate,” he wrote on his personal blog.
Taylor says he was first exposed to Vancouver’s rich street art scene through Jim and the Red Gate collective. “Is it possible that our civic leaders will miss for a second time the contribution that the Red Gates of this world make to the cities where they’re found?” Taylor asked.
While the City drags its feet, Carrico is not holding his breath. “I haven’t stopped looking for other places,” he chides. “If you hear about any, let me know.”
Originally published March 20, 2012.