Local artist Dope Chief is losing his studio space — he blames the LRT cancellation

After Richard Magarin's friends gave notice to vacate a lot, the province killed Hamilton's LRT plans, prompting developers to look for tenants with deeper pockets — pushing artists like Magarin farther away from town.

Richard Magarin is scrambling to find a new studio but says gentrification makes it nearly impossible

Richard Magarin, known as Dope Chief, says he can't find a place because the province scrapped Hamilton's LRT plan. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Richard Magarin thinks his work as an artist has helped tie community bonds in Hamilton but now he's not even sure if he'll be able to stay in the city — and he blames the province's choice to cancel light-rail transit.

Magarin, a 27-year-old full-time artist known as Dope Chief, has been making large-scale art pieces for about six months out of an Indwell-owned commercial property at 1422 Main St. E.

The site was deemed for expropriation to make room for LRT, but when the province put a freeze on all real estate, his friends rented it from Indwell on a monthly basis for about $1,000 according to Magarin.

The artists eventually gave notice to Indwell they were vacating the property and then the province announced the end of Hamilton's LRT plans. 

The news allowed the building to be opened up to new suitors with deeper pockets and longer-term commitments, so when Magarin asked to take over the lease, Indwell wasn't interested.

He thinks it's unfair and says that might not have happened if the Ford government didn't kill LRT.

"These types of spaces are disappearing in Hamilton," he says. "When I heard the LRT was gone, I knew this was going to happen," he says.

Richard Magarin, known as Dope Chief, says he may have to leave Hamilton to find a place to afford his art. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Richard Magarin, known as Dope Chief, says most places available in Hamilton are too expensive or don't mesh with his large-scale art (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Jeffrey Neven, Indwell's executive director, tells CBC News waiting for LRT cost them money they'll never get back, even with the small amount of rent they made from the artists. 

"But it was super favourable," he says. "No one wants to rent a space month-by-month so we were happy to have it occupied and I think they were happy to have cheaper rent for a few months. "

But Neven adds that days before LRT's death, Metrolinx was about to expropriate the property.

Magarin says now that his friends are giving up the lease, he has until the end of February to find a new place. 

He says he is struggling to find a space that is affordable and allows him to work on large-scale, interactive art.

Gentrification is pushing Hamilton artists farther away

Sylvia Nickerson is a local artist who recently published a new comic book called Creation about gentrification in Hamilton.

While her work points back to the financial crisis a decade ago, she says Magarin's feeling today is a familiar one.

"Sometimes landlords aren't sure if they want to rent to artists. They don't understand what they're going to do or use the space for," she says.

"Artists are often the low end of the economic food chain so, I mean, I guess it's not that surprising."

An illustration from Creation by Hamilton cartoonist Sylvia Nickerson. (Submitted by Drawn & Quarterly — From Creation by Hamilton cartoonist Sylvia Nickerson)

Nickerson says she has felt exploited as an artist in the past despite using her art to bring the community closer.

She watched James Street North evolve as an urban, artsy hotspot.

"It was a domino effect with artists coming to a neighbourhood, more small business ventures, more interest from people outside the neighbourhood and it becomes a destination and then developers come in," she says.

"Artists are this first line of making everything look nice and painting murals and giving a neighbourhood a positive vibe and then it all gets sold out."

About the Author

Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca


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