Vancouver’s Arts Factory looking for ‘industrial’ artists

Non-profit Group has 10-year lease in city-owned space on Industrial Way

After months of cleanup and remodelling, the arts group selected by city council to manage studio space in a once-rundown warehouse is ready to take on artists. 

Arts Factory is seeking applications from artists who work in “industrial” mediums to fill more than 8,000 square feet of studio space at 281 Industrial Way. Council awarded a 10-year lease of the city-owned space to Arts Factory at below-market rates in January — part of a plan to shore up the stock of studio space in the city by changing zoning regulations in industrial areas. The Vision Vancouver-backed motion was carried unanimously by council.

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Elia Kirby, who heads the non-profit, told the Courier he hopes artists will be working in the space by December.

“It’s getting hard in the city of Vancouver to adequately, and legally, do things like painting, ceramics, electrical work,” he said.

The Great Northern Way Scene shop, which produces sets for Bard on the Beach and Vancouver Opera, will occupy the other half of the 21,000-square-foot space. 

A committee will select artists from a variety of mediums, backgrounds, and experience levels. Elia said the space will be subdivided into units of between 1,000 and 3,000 square feet. The studios will be rented at $1.85 per square foot per month. The space and relatively low cost will get artists creating, said Kirby.

“Artists will have the germ of an idea. And to develop it, they need to go into your studio and take wood and plastic and paint and start attacking that idea,” he said. 

But in a city where property prices are stripping artists of those spaces at an alarming rate — Kirby estimates some 30,000 square feet of studio space was lost to redevelopment in August 2012, including the 15,000 foot space at the Red Gate — is the city’s plan more than a Band-Aid?    

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a solution,” said Esther Rausenberg, executive director of the Eastside Culture Crawl. “People want less expensive space, but we live in Vancouver and the reality is that is not going to happen. This actually comes close to being affordable.”

As an annual festival that invites people into visual artists’ workspaces, the Eastside Culture Crawl board keeps an eye on how much those spaces cost. Approximately $1.25 per square foot is on the low end for studio space in Vancouver, Rausenberg said — if everything about the space is up to code, that is. In the 1980s, when Rausenberg first started making art, studio space in the Downtown Eastside ran as low as 90 cents a square foot. Today, artists can only find those kind of rates in buildings with demolition clauses in the leases. 

“The days of operating in some six-storey warehouse with no safety standards are gone. And most artists understand that,” she said. “They are inviting the public into their spaces and there are liability issues there.”

Eri Ishii, who has been producing oil paintings in Vancouver for 15 years, agrees the city is right to secure space for artists. But she hopes artists don’t get in the habit of waiting around for the city to help. 

“If the artists want to stay in the city, they need to take control,” she said. “Organize a group [of artists] and take on a lease. You can’t just complain that spaces aren’t affordable and the city is not doing enough. It’s not just their responsibility.” 

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