British Columbia·Q&A

State of the art: is Vancouver driving away creative people?

How bad is affordability hurting Vancouver's creative class? Two people from the creative class debate that question.

Is growth getting in the way of Vancouver's artistic side?

The loss of venues like the Railway Club in downtown Vancouver is sometimes pointed to as evidence of the city being unfriendly to artists. (Steven Luscher/Flickr)

Vancouver has given us Nardwuar the Human Serviette, Adbusters magazine and something called the cat-fe while also being home to well-known artists and authors like Douglas Coupland and Wade Compton.

But as Vancouver grows, and condo buildings replace old-factories-turned-art-studios, is Vancouver driving away its creative minds?

That topic was the subject of the Urbunarium City Debate, "Does Vancouver Repel Creative People?"

Caitlin Jones, executive director of the Western Front Society, says Vancouver is increasingly unaffordable for artists; while Mark Busse, director of creativity and engagement at HCMA Architecture and Design, says Vancouver is, and continues to be, a creative city.

They joined On The Coast host Stephen Quinn for a preview to the debate.

Caitlin, what is the state of affairs for visual artists, dancers, poets and so on?

It's the issue of affordability. It is the number one thing that is crushing almost everything in the city of Vancouver. If you can't afford to live here, if you can't afford to work here, if the upper-middle class is struggling to survive here in Vancouver, what does that mean for an emerging artists coming out of Emily Carr or UBS or any educational facility? It just becomes an increasingly difficult place to create work.

Mark, do you see that happening?

I spend a lot of time in the arts and in the creative community. I actually struggle to find the data that supports the [idea] that even the traditional arts community is leaving. The data shows an inordinate number of inbound people coming into the city. The money follows that. There are certainly problems, no one's denying that affordability is a problem — which I would argue is a creative problem for creative people to solve. This is a problem in all cities where creative people cluster and I think this is a really interesting time in Vancouver where we can really have some success.

Caitlin, do you agree the same problems in Vancouver are happening in other cities?

It is in large cities where you see real estate is the large, driving force for economies. I think this idea that if you bring creative people it will drive economics for a city is deeply problematic. It puts art directly in the pocket of wealth creation as opposed to the art that makes our city a better place. You do see it in major cities like London, [and] increasingly Toronto, New York.

Mark, what about cities like Montreal where many artists relocate to?

My research into this debate actually led me to some pretty delightful discoveries about artists who have tucked into this place and committed to it for the long haul. They tell me they couldn't do what they do from those cities. They don't have the room, the space, the air that we have on the periphery. We have a very unique situation to grow from here.

The city has made extraordinary moves to invest in venues and cultural programs. There is momentum, there is a political will. We have a lot of newcomers. We have not even tapped into the potential of what diversity could mean. I think more people with more involvement and more awareness could really change the conversation.


Arts funding increases, there's no doubt about that, but my property tax increases went up how much per cent this year? If you can't keep pace with the inflated property values and rampant development then those sort of policy decisions aren't that helpful. They're like window dressing. There's a root problem here: it's affordability and our inability to address it.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: State of the art: is Vancouver driving away creative people?