An art gallery in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside faces an uncertain future with half of its funding being cut off in the coming months.

After 21 years Vancouver Coastal Health has decided to stop funding Gallery Gachet, a gallery and art space which offers art and vocational workshops and primarily serves those with mental health issues.

Pierre Leichner, a member of the Gallery Gachet collective, told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff that the kind of support the gallery provides to people in the troubled community is "priceless."

"Vancouver Coastal [Health] has been getting excellent value for the services Gallery Gachet does," said Leichner, who has also worked as a psychiatrist with the health authority.

"It gives the opportunity for people who would not regularly have this opportunity, to show their work, in a setting that is like a professional gallery and I can't tell you how much that helps people in terms of building their self-esteem."

Money used for rent, salaries

The funding, which will end in 90 days, was used for half of the gallery's budget — which includes the rent of the facility on 88 East Cordova, computers, electricity and the salaries of some staff.

"For [VCH] it was, 'Well go find the money somewhere else,' which I find extremely disrespectful," Leichner said.

"Gallery Gachet is an important voice towards de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying mental health issues for the general public." - Pierre Leichner

"If we don't find a solution it's drastic."

A statement from VCH explained that the decision came out of its DTES Second Generation Health Strategy, a two-year consultation and planning process in which more than 60 agencies and service partners were consulted.

As part of the health authority's new strategy, the funding from Gallery Gachet will be reinvested to support the VCH-funded Mental Health and Addiction Drop-in, the new VCH Low Threshold Addictions Service and drop-in, and the new VCH-funded Peer Navigation Program.

VCH said it will ensure that the new drop-in programming will include art-focused activities and also display client art.

The statement said that VCH commends Gallery Gachet for its work, but "this standalone service is outside VCH's primary mandate of providing core health services.

"Funding is being reallocated to focus more directly on VCH's health mandate with evidence-based services that directly link clients to services and supports."

Should art be funded?

Leichner disagreed with VCH's decision.

"What we are seeing and have been seeing for a number of years is a narrowing of focus to what is primarily the traditional, evidence-based type of medical system, which means you need a diagnosis to get in, you need a treatment plan, you need to be numbered, and case numbered. And that isn't the way Gallery Gachet functions."

Leichner said that while the gallery serves clients of mental health services, it also plays an important, larger role.

"Gallery Gachet is an important voice towards de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying mental health issues for the general public."


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: DTES' Gallery Gachet loses funding