Vancouver’s vibrant arts community is under threat by the growing housing crisis. Nowhere is the lack of accessible housing more apparent than in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighburhood, where condo development is outpacing social housing affordable to DTES residents at a rate of 11 to 1, despite that the City of Vancouver’s housing policy states 1:1 replacement of units, and their supposed motto for their DTES plan is “Revitalization Without Displacement.”
Property developer Marc Williams plans to build a condominium called Sequel 138 on the grounds of the recently gutted Pantages Theatre (138 East Hastings). The proposal includes 79 condos selling for $227,000 (and upward), a token 18 units for social housing (as REQUIRED by the current Downtown Eastside/Oppenheimer District zoning), and twelve commercial units, one of which Williams is selling out as an “art space”. Although the initial proposal claimed the support of The Art Space Action Society – a group with no history or direct relationship with the DTES community – ASA has since stated that they are not involved in the controversial Sequel 138 condo development project.
However, like most Vancouver neighbourhoods, an overwhelming majority of artists and residents of the DTES can not afford to buy condos and would likely experience barriers to accessing an art space designed for condo owners. It is clear that the proposed development is not intended for these low-income residents. The development’s marketing efforts would suggest otherwise and have been intentionally misleading in this respect.
As artists, cultural workers and arts organizations, we support the DTES Community Resolution in opposing condos in the heart of this neighbourhood.
Yes, Downtown Eastside artists are in desperate need of studio, gallery and housing space- an unaddressed need that is long overdue – but it is clear that this does not come with the development of condos on the 100 Block of East Hastings. We do not want to act as complicit in a project that will further displace, impoverish and harm residents of the Downtown Eastside and make people feel increasingly excluded in their own neighbourhood.
Furthermore, contrary to wide spread myth, artists do not benefit from gentrification and we reject being exploited by developers in order to further their marketing objective. Rather artists (among countless other residents!) have been evicted to make way for such developments, and the arts community has already suffered the loss of numerous DTES cultural spaces due to land speculation and draconian cuts to cultural funding. On the chopping block as this is written are Red Gate, Dynamo, and possibly Gallery Gachet as their lease comes up next year. They and many others may join a long list of art spaces based within the DTES who have shuttered their doors or had to relocate in recent years including Access, Seamrippers, The Peanut Gallery, 69 Pender, the Crying Room, Hellen Pitt, Spartacus Books, The Church of Pointless Hysteria, WRKS DVSN and many more.
Any benefit to artists comes in the shape of short term opportunistic projects with little legacy, or no sustainable development or equity for local artists or local arts organizations
Ultimately, artists do not benefit from, nor are the agents of, these incredibly harmful processes of gentrification.
Therefore, we demand that existing artists’ spaces be protected and supported, and that under-resourced and underrepresented artists in our community who do not already have spaces for developing their practices be provided with space which is accessible to them: affordable, low-barrier, low-income friendly spaces.
We demand that these spaces be protected and provided for without displacement. We refuse to be coerced into choosing between homes and cultural space. We demand access to both.
We the undersigned, who are artists and cultural workers living in the Downtown Eastside and throughout Vancouver, oppose any condo development on the Pantages site (Sequel 138). We hold the proposed development to be unethical due to its active role in gentrification, paving the way for future, similar projects to profit off of the poverty of others and challenge the fabric the Downtown Eastside community by insisting that those who already live and work in this neighbourhood are unwelcome here.
The DTES has one of the highest ratios of artists per population of any neighborhood in Canada and deserves respect for our ability to understand and plan for our growth and success.
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