The future of a media arts space in the Downtown Eastside remains uncertain after its imminent eviction from city-owned space was delayed by the city.
The W2 Community Media Arts society was informed late last month that it would be evicted from its space effective Nov. 31. All but one of the society’s employees have been laid off.
W2 is an amalgam of three non-profit societies that operates a cafe, multimedia workstations and event space in the Woodward’s building.
The idea for the centre was first floated in 2004, with the goal of giving Downtown Eastside residents access to media production tools.
The non-profit rents its 10,000-square-foot, three-level space from the city for $1 a year. However, W2 is expected to pay an $85,000 a year “amenity fee,” which has not been paid since it moved in to the space in September 2011.
W2 was a major part of a city-driven redevelopment of the Woodward’s department store, which also includes market and social housing, a branch of Simon Fraser University and retail space.
Sid Tan, who sits on the board for the W2 cafe, said board members were informed of the eviction at a Nov. 26 meeting with city staff. He said the city has since granted a 90-day stay on the original Nov. 31 eviction order.
“I raised a fuss about it,” said Tan. “I said it’s going to be war if we’re out. We have programs through the end of February.”
Both city staff and members of the W2 Board of Directors agree W2’s business model has not been working.
Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement Dec. 9 on the status of W2.
“The city is committed to working with the W2 board to facilitate a renewed business plan that will allow for more stable, long-term organizational stability,” he said in the release.
City staff and councillors were not made available for comment Monday.
“A complete breakdown of funding is pretty complex, since it involves the cafe, member groups, rentals, grants, and events,” said board chair Dethe Elza in an email to the Courier.
Income from the cafe, which is run by volunteers, was expected to cover costs — included the amenity fee, salaries for the centre’s two full-time staff and other expenses.
Elza said the board and the society’s one remaining employee will work to make sure all previously scheduled events go forwards as planned, including a holiday fundraiser party this Friday.
Tan said he felt the city has acted “hastily” in moving to evict. But the mayor’s statement indicates W2’s finances were a long-standing issue for the city.
“Senior city staff have met regularly with W2’s board and executive director over the past year to convey concerns about financial management of the organization,” the mayor said in the release.