Artists & Real Estate
Neighborhood gentrification. The loss of low cost creative space
The progression is clear: Artists & designers move into a grungy neighborhood where they can afford space to work. As a result the neigborhood is revived- but then the artists get priced out when restaurants, retailers and real-estate developers follow. They transform an area with their energy – and then cannot afford to stay. I have seen it happen in every city I have lived & visited. Vancouver, Chicago, Sydney, Brisbane, Cork, London, Seattle & Portland. Small, rural communities are not immune.
In Vancouver the affordable, studio space has been severly depleted since the onslaught of “live-work” development. It is so ironic – marketed on the premise of artist studios – but contrived by developers & architects to sell canvernous, unfinished space to hip professionals & urban office workers. “Lofts “in Gastown, Yaletown, Railtown, Main Street, Strathcona, Clarke & Commercial drives.
Granville Island stands out as a beacon of hope – a diverse mixture of creative activity, unique retail (not chains) and the public market. Theatres, galleries and working studios for artists & artisans. A huge tourism draw and destination for visitors and locals alike, that Vancouverites are all so proud to show off. City planners all over the world have tried to emulate its ambience.
Sorry to break your bubble – but the only reason there are still any studios on Granville Island is the cement factory. It remains the only viable industrial resident and pays huge property tax to be in the middle of the city. CMHC (federal gov) owns the island (not Vancouver or BC gov’s) and controls the rental and allocation of space. The artists studios receive a much lower leasing cost that typical retail – only this maintains the “character” and attraction that is so evident.
I see tourism editorials, travel promotions, and destination marketing all touting the fabulous arts & creative community here on the Sunshine Coast. New projects that will be “like” Granbille Island. Real Estate advertising selling the landscape and the “lifestyle”.
The past Fibre Arts Fesitval, Festival of the Written Arts, Purple Banner and highly successful regional Art Crawl in its 4th year – are testament to the power of our creative community. Artists, artisans, performers, musicians, writers… bring life, vitality & vision to a community. A fresh outlook, sometimes a little twisted, fickle view on the world. Live theatre, music and festivals abound. All on our doorstep – and facilitated by dedicated volunteers and underpaid staff.
Without local government and business acknowledging the value of that “character and attraction that is so evident” – it will slip away. Festivals are folding for lack of funding and burnt out volunteers. The gallery & venue buildings will decline to the point of demolition. Rents will go up. Property values are already out of reach. Old buildings will make way for condos & retail. Creative workers will no longer be able to afford to pursue their practice in this paradise that we share. Not that they will stop creating…they’ll just find a cheaper place to do it.
I was very fortunate to arrive here when land was cheap – 22 years ago my undeveloped lot cost $12,000. No road, no power or utilities – but I owned it. With an understanding bank manager, I worked 3 jobs, designed & built my own home, salvaging materials & bartering with contractors. I moved my 2 kids in with only drywall, paint, a bathroom sink, shower and toilet connected, and harvest gold appliances. I owned my funny little car and had no credit cards. I made it work – I had to. Today – I would not even get my foot close to the real estate door – let alone in it.
Through it all – I painted. I always have. I always will. Wherever I land.
If my skills, activities and creative output have added to my community…I’m proud of that. But please remember I am one of the very fortunate ones – my timing was right. I landed on my feet and managed to build a life here on the coast and my husband has a secure job. But if I had to do it again today – it would have to be in a different community. A cheaper place to live.
The artists that bring vibrancy and vitality to your community need sales but also acknowledgment and a raised awareness. Bring your kids & visitors to see the studios on the Purple Banner self-guided tour. Invite your friends to the coast for the Art Crawl or Writers Fest. Go to a gallery opening, the theatre or enjoy Music in the Landing. Volunteer. Take a class. Embrace and support this “lifestyle” that they all talk about (Volunteer to experience your favorite interest) and remember that without the artists – it would be different. It will be different.
Creative workers also need policies, consistent funding and dedicated infrastructure in place – that enhances that intangible “quality of life” for the community – not for financial gain. The Chamber of Commerce, The Town of Gibsons , the SC Regional District, SC Tourism, Economic Development initiatives and Community Futures, Real Estate developers and agents…They are all selling the “lifestyle”.
Every time one of them says how great the Sunshine Coast is – they should feel obliged to put a toonie in the jar – to support the arts.