by Jessica Werb on August 4, 2011. Georgia Straight
“Frida Kahlo” was among the artists resurrected in protest at a development planned for the Pantages site that is being marketed at artists. Protesters of the planned condo development on the site of the former Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hastings resurrected the ghosts of Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, and Andy Warhol at a demonstration against the development this morning. The stunt in the lane behind the demolition site came in response to a recent press release by property owner Marc Williams which called that part of Hastings a “dead zone.”
Arts groups and artists were among the protesters voicing their opposition to the development, which would include a 2,500-square-foot art space on the main floor in addition to 79 one-bedroom condos to be sold at $227,000, and 18 social-housing units. Williams has said the condo’s target market is artists and employees of the DTES non-profit societies, and that a letter of intent has been signed with the non-profit group Art Space Action Society to purchase about 2,500 square feet at a discounted rate for an arts facility on the main floor. But the protesters said those plans did not reflect the real needs of the community.
“One of the things that Marc Williams claims is that he’s building these condos for artists,” said a woman dressed as Frida Kahlo, who declined to give her real name. “I’m an artist, and I can’t afford a quarter-million-dollar condo. He also claims that this is a dead zone, that no one will be displaced because there is no life down here.… This community has more artists per capita density than any other area in B.C., and in Canada we are the second, according to Census Canada. The first is downtown Montreal, and the Downtown Eastside is the second.”
Speaking as “Andy Warhol,” community organizer and artist Nathan Crompton said Warhol himself would not have been able to afford one of the Sequel 138 units: “I’m Andy Warhol, and there’s no way I would have been able to afford a quarter-million-dollar condo before I made it big. Let me tell you in Vancouver, there’s not more than four or five or ten artists who made it big.”
He continued: “So are they marketing these condos to the 10 artists who made it big in Vancouver? They already have their places to live.… To say this is for artists is to unleash a marketing scheme that’s not going to do anything but bring in people to the community who aren’t from here. And why that matters is because it’s about property values. There’s affordable housing in this area, and if you bring in a high-end luxury development, you’re going to change the structure of the property market.”
Housing activist Rider Cooey, speaking as “Salvador Dali”, called the plans for the development surreal. “I don’t think there’s anything any more surreal than the idea that by buying a condo at Main and Hastings, you will be able to have any effect whatsoever other than negative on the social problems of this neighbourhood,” he said.
“Marc Williams and [his company] Worthington Properties have no interest in artistic activities, no interest in the low-income community. They are purely developers for profit and they plan to do it off the backs of the people who live in this neighbourhood and have struggled here for decades.”
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board member Harold Lavender, channelling Vincent Van Gogh, vociferously rejected the planned development.
“I was a little crazy when I was alive,” said “Van Gogh”. “I was a dangerous to other people and I was dangerous to myself. I was a little self-destructive and the proponents of morality really didn’t like me at all. Now I come back here, reborn, it’s going to make me totally crazy again. This is not a place for lovers of beauty and certainly not a place for crazy people.”