Mount Pleasant on the Rize: Arts Factory
A rundown of CAC funding in Mount Pleasant, and the construction of Elia Kirby's Arts Factory
Words by Brit Bachmann
Edited by Christopher Millin
A wave of arts funding is breaking over the Mount Pleasant area, substantiating its status as one of Vancouver’s most vibrant and experimental artist hubs.
On June 11th Vancouver City Council unanimously voted in favour of allocating $4.5 million to select arts organizations in Mount Pleasant in the form of a community amenity contribution, or CAC. The CAC is funded by Rize Alliance Properties, who contributed a total of $6 million to the City of Vancouver in exchange for zoning variances in the construction of a tower and complex at Broadway and Kingsway.
This model for CAC is becoming commonplace in Vancouver. It is a collaboration between developers and City officials to bend pre-existing zoning and building laws to provide more housing and commercial space in trendy urban centres. CAC funding is dispersed to infrastructure initiatives, daycares and cultural centres.
Last year another CAC made headlines. Jim Pattison Group donated $15.8 million to community amenities in exchange for a 54-storey tower at the intersection of Burrard and Drake. The largest individual allocation was $7 million, awarded to the development of an LGBTQ community centre in the West End called QMUNITY.
In Mount Pleasant, five centres in particular have benefited from the Rize CAC allocation. Western Front has received $1.5 million, grunt gallery $400,000, Arts Factory $300,000, and VIVO + C-Space a combined $2.3 million.
I will be interviewing representatives from each organization to get an understanding of the roles they play within the current community/developer dynamic of Mount Pleasant, and what the CAC allocation money means for their futures.
Arts Factory occupies approximately 22,000 sq feet within the art deco facade at 281 Industrial Avenue, currently concealed by a marshmallow of renovation plastic. While it is technically on the periphery of Mount Pleasant, Arts Factory will be filling a much needed demand for more artist studios in the area. It is the infant non-profit organization of Elia Kirby, better known for his work with Great Northern Way Scene Shop set designs and public art.
When renovations to 281 Industrial Ave are complete, Arts Factory will operate as a multi-tenant artist studio and workspace, charging minimal rent fees to cover operational costs. They have been granted a long term lease at below market value per square foot to provide affordable studios and spaces to local emerging and professional artists.
Last week Elia gave me a tour of the space, painting a picture of the artistic mecca it will become. The lower floor will house individual and collective artist studio spaces and communal facilities, while the second floor will provide work stations for visiting artists and dislocated arts organizations. Although it is a construction zone now, the building gleams with potential.
We conducted our interview in a makeshift boardroom with flimsy laminated walls and harsh fluorescents, part of Elia’s temporary office space during renovations. Down the hall and through a door that bares a warning of active construction, is what will become the new Arts Factory. It was quieter than I expected. Elia led the way with a flashlight, carefully showing me around stray tools and holes in the floorboards. It smelled like sawdust and oil. Initially our only light was peachy, radiating from a backlit orange tarp in a corner. Elia later explained that the tarp blocks off an area that still contains poisonous lead paint, one of the many unforeseen obstacles of renovating 281 Industrial Ave.
Upstairs is an entirely different scene, so bright with natural light that workers were wearing sunglasses. In the light, it was easier to understand what a daunting task these renovations are. Only three months before its tentative opening, and Arts Factory is still only a skeleton.
281 Industrial Ave is owned by the City of Vancouver, who assumes the role of landlord. As landlord, the City is liable for structural upgrading and has been conducting the current renovations. The CAC allocation of $300,000 was awarded to Arts Factory with the intention of helping fund the building of artist studios.
When asked about the impact of Rize-like developments on neighbourhood gentrification, Elia maintains a realistic perspective on the necessity of constructing high occupancy buildings in cities. Unlike the other organizations awarded the CAC, Arts Factory did not actively oppose the Rize development. Elia claims, “I wasn’t that involved…I know a lot of people were concerned, but I don’t think I would have been. I am actually a big fan of this [CAC] as a new model for providing funding for arts organizations and artists. I am quite critical of the old model, where arts organizations were given beautiful shells [of buildings], but responsible for all the capital upgrades and ongoing costs…the developer was actually making money off them.”
Elia’s goal is to make Arts Factory an entirely self-sufficient space, operating as service-based rather than program-based. Unlike the other organizations in Mount Pleasant that received CAC allocation, Arts Factory will not require grant funding or subsidies. He highlights the importance of artists paying rent for their studios, saying that “we have to fight that often criticized or derided identity of artists as a bunch of freeloaders who only exist on the back of the state.” By charging rent and operating as a lease/sublease, Arts Factory community will demonstrate an active, mercantile investment in the neighbourhood.
Arts Factory is currently accepting proposals for the artist studios, although no fixed occupancy date has been determined. All applications will be reviewed by a selection committee. They will be judged based on body of work, artist statement, peer evaluation and financial stability.
Brit is Editor-In-Chief at Discorder Magazine, Community Engagement Coordinator at VIVO Media Arts Centre, and frequent contributor to Vandocument. When she isn't writing or sneaking into studios, Brit draws.