Stay or leave: Vancouver's artists face dwindling studio space, insecure housing

Artists are one group hit particularly hard by Vancouver’s affordability crisis, losing studio space and homes as real estate prices soar, and many are left wondering if there is still room for artists in the city.

Red Gate Arts Society has joined list of those looking for a new home

Artists like Jenny Ritter, a musician, illustrator and choir director, struggle to find affordable studio space to rent in Vancouver and face having to leave the city. (Jenny Ritter Music/Facebook)

Artists are one group hit particularly hard by Vancouver's affordability crisis, losing studio space and homes as real estate prices soar, and many are left wondering if there is still room for artists in the city.

The Red Gate Arts Society, one of the city's best-known alternative arts organizations, has joined the list of those looking for a new home.

Low Tide Properties, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson's company, owns the building on East Hastings and has asked Red Gate to move out by the end of May.

Red Gate's original lease expired two years ago and they've been paying month-by-month since.

Studio space rents have skyrocketed since the group was last looking for a space six years ago.

"It's tough out there right now, it's really hard to remain optimistic," said Ana Rose Carrico, a director with Red Gate.

Passing the rising costs on to the musicians and artists who use the space isn't an option, she told CBC's Jeremy Allingham.

"Our mandate is to maintain as affordable as possible rehearsal and studio space for artists; we can't triple our rent," Carrico said.

Between 60 and 80 artists currently have spaces with Red Gate.

It's not just studio rooms they risk losing — the organization also has an art gallery, darkroom, workshop facilities and a large space for exhibitions and events.

Red Gate Arts Society has joined the list of those looking for a new home. 7:53

'Emotional roller coaster'

The uncertainty Red Gate and its artists face is common for people in Vancouver's art community. 

Jenny Ritter, a musician, illustrator and choir director, has been hit with two evictions. 

About a month ago, Ritter's landlord told her she would have to move out of her East Vancouver rental after seven years. Two weeks later, she lost her studio space, too.

"It's an emotional roller coaster," she said.

She and her partner are trying to decide whether to they will stay in Vancouver, or leave.

A big part of that question, she said, is figuring out whether the city will be more welcoming to artists in the future.

"I don't see it getting better," Ritter said. "We are trying to decide if that means we should leave, or if it means we should grab on to our little communities that we have and hold on and fight."

Red Gate's Revue stage on Granville Island is more protected from fluctuations in the Vancouver housing market because the area is on federal land. (CBC)

Cultural centres

Each year, Vancouver hands out $11 million in grants to arts and cultural organizations.

City Coun. Heather Deal said the money goes a long way, but doesn't do much to address the insecurity artists face in their working spaces.

"People think that we have a magic wand that we don't have when it comes to privately-owned spaces," she said. "We are looking for tools that we can use."

Carrico, Red Gate's director, says creating "cultural land reserves" around the city — areas dedicated to the arts and not competing with development — would help artists and draw in tourists.  

Red Gate's Revue stage on Granville Island, for example, is less vulnerable than the studio on Hastings to fluctuations in the housing market because it's on federal land. 

"There's a huge amount of talent in Vancouver right now and we have to make it appealing enough for them to stay," Carrico said. 

With files from The Early Edition and Jeremy Allingham.