Vancouver targets 50,000 square feet of new arts space within the next year

First pillar of that plan, Howe Street Studios, encompasses 11,000 square feet

Somewhat quietly tucked away at the bottom of a city-issued news release Dec. 6 was a nugget that should provide some hope to Vancouver’s continually fracturing arts scene.

“Howe Street Studios is the first of several new city-owned arts spaces set to open Vancouver over the coming year,” the statement read.

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The release then continued to suggest close to 50,000 square feet worth of arts space is in the offing over the next 12 months: a 20,000 square foot multi-purpose arts and culture production and presentation hub at 825 Pacific St., 30 units of social housing for artists with 4,000 square feet of production space at Main and Second Avenue and a 20,000 square foot, purpose-built music presentation centre secured at the Plaza of Nations.  

All of this, along with a proposed 6,000 square foot rehearsal facility that could be a part of Fir Street project subject to a development permit board hearing on Jan. 20.

But first, back to Howe Street Studios.

Owned by the city and operated by the non-profit 221A, the studio encompasses close to 11,000 square feet of space that will be used predominantly for visual arts. It includes two kiln compatible studios and two sound-isolated studios. About 20 artists call it home.

“221A’s vision for the facility is to support the re-emergence of viable working spaces for artists within Vancouver’s downtown core, with a focus on artists who have traditionally been disadvantaged from access to public resources,” 221A director Brian McBay said in a news release.                  

The new space came to fruition by way of community amenity contributions (CAC) from Howe Street Developments Limited Partnership, as part of a mixed use development that includes a 41-storey residential building. CACs are like a give a take between cities and developers, where a municipality will leverage amenities — affordable housing, park space or purpose-built rental units — against a developer’s request for more density.

Artists at the Howe Street space are in commercial sublease agreements for three-year terms, with the Malaspina Printmakers Society selected as the facility’s key subtenant. The non-profit, artist-run centre “advances education, promotes excellence in the art form, and increases the public’s understanding and appreciation of contemporary art and print media,” according to the city.

Last week’s announcement builds on council’s lofty, 10-year vision for arts and culture in the city adopted in September. Through three different pieces of legislation, the city aims to secure 800,000 square feet of art space over the next decade along with creating affordable artist housing and providing grant money to artists and arts groups.

The first allotment of that funding — almost $900,000 — went out in November to groups and individuals the city characterized as “underrepresented” in previous grant allocations: First Nations groups, people of colour and others from the LGBTQ+ community.


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