Vancouver eyes fund to support arts and culture in pricey real estate market

Credit to Author: Dan Fumano| Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2019 00:51:09 +0000

Vancouver’s council spent much of Tuesday examining a proposed 10-year arts and culture strategy, but as is often the case, the conversation repeatedly turned to the subject of real estate.

The continuing loss of cultural spaces and venues in Vancouver — largely due to real estate market pressures — is identified as a key challenge in the report before council this week on a strategy for the city’s arts, music and culture over the next 10 years.

Council heard Tuesday from speakers who told stories of real estate development squeezing out music venues, art studios and cultural spaces.

“Everybody talks about getting pushed around,” Alix Sales, Vancouver’s head of cultural spaces, said following Tuesday’s presentation.

One of the strategy’s goals, Sales said, would be for the city to support non-profit arts groups in owning their own spaces.

To that end, the report proposes establishing a “Vancouver cultural spaces fund” in an interest-bearing reserve, to support non-profits’ efforts to “plan, develop and acquire affordable cultural spaces.”

The report seeks council’s approval to launch the fund with $4.8 million, and proposes future funding could be secured through development contributions with a goal of $10 million over the next three years.

“It’s going to take a few years, but it’s a huge shift to really invest in local ownership,” Sales said. “$5 million or $10 million is a start. This is to develop a fund over a long term.”

The report looks at San Francisco, another city with acute affordability challenges. That city has launched a cultural land trust, which helps non-profit arts organizations stabilize their rent in a rising market or, in some cases, acquire their own spaces.

The San Francisco fund launched in 2013 with seed funding of US$5 million. It is now valued at several times that, Sales said.

One section of the report before council this week proposes exploring ways to increase cultural organizations’ access to city-owned spaces, “including the option of all-ages music performances in community centres, libraries and firehalls.”

Branislav Henselmann, the city’s managing director of cultural services, said while it’s worth exploring those options, “re-using city space is not a game-changer, it is patching things at best.”

“It seems like an easy fix,” Henselmann said. “But we need to make sure the community has ownership, that is the actual game-changer.”

Council is expected to decide on the culture strategy on Wednesday.