Artists Boycott

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.

(Please leave your name and any affiliation in the Comments below.)


30 responses to “Artists Boycott

  1. Sarah Godoy

  2. Quin Martins – DTES Artists Space Coalition

  3. The Red Gate “cultural wildlife refuge” at 152-156 West Hastings has been an ad-hoc, unofficial, community driven cultural space for more than 30 years. For the last 5 years we’ve been caught between an owner who doesn’t want to spend any money on the building, and a city bureaucracy that wants him to “bring it up to code” (ie. gentrify) and we have been surviving throughout this period without lease, license or permits of any kind (including basic occupancy permits,) on the basis of the good will generated by our deep connections to the neighborhood and the creative community at large. Unfortunately our air bubble has been slowly evaporating and is about to disappear entirely…

    needless to say we agree with and support this statement…

  4. We support this statement. Thank you. Elaine Carol, Artistic Director, MISCELLANEOUS Productions Society

  5. Britta Fluevog – DTES Artists Space Coalition, The Downtown Eastside Arts & Culture Romp, DTES Artist

  6. Ali Lohan

  7. I totally agree with this statement and it’s purpose.
    Hendrik Beune, Director AHAmedia

  8. Jan Constantinescu

    As an artist and potential condo purchaser, I would not support the introduction of condos into the DTES until social housing in accordance with a community vision is in place.
    Without disparaging condo developer, Marc Williams’ motives, anyone who can characterize a community housing 400 individuals – a streetscape to hundreds more and one with the ability to produce such an eloquent articulation of issues as The Artists Statement Against Sequel 138 – as a ‘dead zone’ displays a remarkable myopia and unmitigated marketplace orientation.

  9. Useful website. Thanks for sharing.

  10. artists throughout vancouver are encouraged to sign this boycott!
    call out to all artists who oppose condo development on the pantages site!

  11. Erica Holt – DTES Artists Space Coalition

  12. What can I say that hasn’t already been said, whether above or elsewhere? I am firmly against the mass gentrification and displacement of artists, their creative spaces and the low income citizens of the DTES.

  13. J Cane, Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society

    J Cane, Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society

  14. Thank you for addressing this. When I ran WRKS DVSN (2005-6), it was made overwhelmingly clear to me that the city inspectors and police were acting as hatchetmen for the big-money developers. WRKS DVSN was open for 14 months; and during this time, our artist-run centre was inspected 7 times by the same city person. Each time we passed inspection, she returned 2 months later to try again, often with other types of inspectors, hoping to nail us for something. I can’t imagine that this much city attention is normally given to any business, let alone one that set out to create and support local culture at absolutely no profit. Despite the fact that we had a business permit, a temporary alcohol permit, every other permit we were told we needed and had even bought the building on paper, WRKS DVSN was raided during an opening and shutdown for holding an illegal mass gathering (there were 50 people or less in an 1800 square foot space). I was listed by name and address on a posting stapled to the building as the proprietor of an illegal after-hours club and evicted for living in a building that had been lived in steadily for almost 100 years. The city people told me I was lucky to lose only my home, business and all the money I had put into them because they also could have thrown in a $1500 fine if they cared too. A couple of days later when I was sweeping up the last of the dream, a lady called and asked if we could host a last-minute opening, as her own artist-run centre had just been shut down, and so had her back-up venue, The Seam-Rippers. I told her that we had just been shut down, too. Looking into it, I found that we were the tenth artist-run centre to be shut down in the last ten months by the city’s ‘anti-rave squad’. We had held openings, performances, kid’s nights and community meetings all on our own dime and had revitalized a building that had stood empty on a prominent corner for the previous 2 years. The guy that bought it out from under my new legal troubles immediately knocked down half of the building, the site at which sake was brewed for the first time in Canada, as is eulogized in a mural on the west side of the Sunrise Market, and the building stood vacant for at least another 2 years. This city is clearly in bed with the developers who would have it only for the rich, and we the people have to fight them before we are all taking the train into a town we used to live in. Thank you for your efforts!

  15. Errorre. eerrrorr. DTES IS in fact a heyday for developers. I know artists speak in a visionary manner, but hey you lost the pantages! I don’t know what you’re talking about. Artists always find another way, like rats, as some people have put it. We are what society may term a disease that won’t go away. error-reviewed by the Artist-of-the-World.

  16. At the moment the Pitt has its own space only because we were able to find a storefront for less than $1000/month in the central area. Anyone who has looked will know that sort of thing is scarce; the ones that still exist often have serious problems. Our street is gradually being colonised — the new businesses that move in have lots of complaints about the neighbourhood, about the upkeep of nearby buildings, about everything. The owners who still provide inexpensive leases often neglect their buildings, meaning that eventually there will be inspector visits. Rather than maintain properties, or even make long-term lease agreements, some of these owners would rather just board something up and wait for a big payout in five or ten or fifteen years.Then there are the older buildings that have mysteriously burned down. Among these is 311-3178 W Hastings, which was the home of the Pitt in the early 90s, and housed studios, Spartacus Books, and at one time Artspeak Gallery. That’s lost now, and I wonder what is going to happen if our current premises catch fire, or if the people who are opening the sports bar down the street start complaining to the police about art galleries that serve beer at their openings, or if we start getting those “flying squad” inspection visits that artist-run centres had 8 or 10 years ago. For now, we’re here. For now, there are some artists with space to create work. But once new towers, and people with a real sense of privilege start moving in, how long until the pressure on property values and rents, and pressure applied through city hall and the police eliminate our ability to work in our neighbourhood.

  17. My name is Take5.
    I have been an living and working as artist in the DTES for over 20 years.
    I have worked out of the Red Gates since 2007, and painted many of the murals you have seen on Hastings st and it’s connectors. I wanted to sign this to be in solidarity with the marginalized people of the DTES (the homeless, the ill, the poor, the sick) and the artists who can’t afford space to work in their own community. We are under attack by policy; by greed and misunderstanding.

    I urge all of you to take DIRECT action in your community to send a clear message to developers, slum lords, bureaucrats, politicians and immoral investors that the DTES is not for sale or re-development.

  18. I am an art collector and live part time in a small condo in Gastown. I have come to love the organic and vibrant underground art movement in the DTES. It is sad for me to see the Redgate go. I have purchased work from several artists that worked out of that space. All folks in the DTES need affordable housing and artists are especially in need. The “starving artist” is not a myth, it takes years of dedication and hard work to get to a place where art can produce enough income to fuel a life. For some, it will never happen but their art feeds their soul and that can be enough. Come on Vancouver, realize the prize that you have in your art community and start to support it, market it, house it and advertise it with pride!!

  19. In reply to Jan Constantinescu, what about Bob Sarti and HIS “dead zone”?

    In 2006 Bob Sarti wrote, “Heading back east along Hastings Street, you will find pretty much of a dead zone – mostly boarded up buildings. But in Eriksen’s day, this was a dynamic retail strip, with big consumer pleasure palaces like Woodward’s, Wosk’s and Fields…” SOURCE: Lived Experience #5 (A literary journal from the mountains of B.C.)

    It helps to know history, Jan, and not to play loose with the facts. Would you really say that Bob Sarti “displays a remarkable myopia and unmitigated marketplace orientation.”? Hardly. He was just telling the truth.

    Marc Williams is creating a mixed housing option in the DTES, plus 2500 sq ft of art space, and using private capital to help solve a public problem. Williams used the term “dead zone” to apply specifically to his uninhabited site on East Hastings. Bob Sarti used it more broadly. Double standards do not become you, Jan. It’s another reason why chronic complainers in the DTES are just not taken seriously.

  20. Vancouver observer

    Isn’t it time to admit failure? What we’ve been doing in the DTES satisfies no one, on any side of the spectrum. It’s time for new choices.
    Here’s an important new think piece about the options, and about a healthier future in the DTES. It’s in the Vancouver Courier:
    We must never be afraid of new solutions to old problems. Time for real change and progressive policies in the DTES. Knee-jerk, reactionary ‘solutions’ repeated over and over have fixed nothing. Those old ‘solutions’ are not a platform. They are a treadmill.

  21. To Vancouver Observer and Anonymous who posted on October 11th: A lot of the proposals that have long been called for by people in the DTES have
    never been tried. Many of these are outlined very clearly in the
    Carnegie Community Action Project report, “Assets to Action: A
    Community Vision for Change.” This ambitious project is a powerful
    testament to the way the people of the DTES community see themselves,
    their community, and the changes they feel are necessary in their neighbourhood. In case any are unclear as to how gentrification actually works (and many are), Appendix A of this report clearly outlines how catch phrases like, “Revitalization,” “balance,” “social mix” and “inclusivity” are
    used to justify development projects that not only end up making
    low-income people feel unwelcome in their own neighbourhoods, but make it financially impossible for them to continue living there. There is plenty of
    evidence, both in Vancouver with the Woodward’s development and in
    other cities, that show how the Pantages ‘Sequel 138’ will cause a
    massive displacement of real people from their own community. From
    page 13 of the report: “At no time in CCAP’s consultation process did
    any residents suggest that having richer people in the community would
    help their mental illness, reduce their addiction, make them less
    poor, get rid of their bed bugs, or get them a decent place to live.
    It’s not mixing up richer and poorer people that we need to solve the
    area’s problems. We need to tackle the problems directly.” The CCAP
    report presents “12 Key Actions” for directly tackling those problems. This plan has never actually been tried, and in this regard I think
    you’re right Vancouver Observer – it’s high time we tried something different – like listening to the people who actually live in the DTES community about
    what they say they actually need and want. On the other hand, gentrifying
    developments like ‘Sequel 138’ have been ‘tried’ and ‘tried again’ –
    and have proven ultimately to be nothing less than the most effective means of moving poor folks along.

  22. Vancouver Observer

    Hi Sarah.
    Thanks for yours. Good to read someone who is rational. These issues usually become the property of ideological crazies, and a small trough of theoreticians who never, ever live in the DTES themselves.
    Their ‘solutions’ serve the interests of their ‘helpers’ – those who earn six figures a year and live in million-dollar homes. A lot of people are paid a lot of money to maintain – and rationalize — the status quo in the DTES. The Globe reported that $1.3 billion has been spent in the DTES since 2000. Where are the results?
    Drug dealers benefit from the status quo. Pimps benefit from the status quo. But people who are just trying to make it are not helped by ‘helpers’ who offer nothing but same old, same old.
    If social housing were the answer to DTES problems, those problems would have been solved long ago. There is social housing all over the place in the DTES, and still you want more. It’s expensive to build, expensive to maintain, and keeps the DTES a ghetto. It does nothing to deal with underlying problems of addiction, mental illness, and generations of abuse. All it does is CONCENTRATE those problems, and make it easier for drug dealers to sell their shit. And drive Beemers home to Surrey at nite.
    Do you remember what happened in ’86? To get rid of hookers downtown, the cops herded them to Hastings and Main where the tourists wouldn’t have to look at them. The problem was shoved to the ghetto, where it has only gotten worse. That’s what ghettos are designed to do. They contain problems. They don’t solve them.
    People who think social housing is the answer to everything never talk about the notorious failures of social housing. No city tried harder than Chicago to solve the problem with massive investment in social housing.
    Most people believe in healthy neighbourhoods. These require a mix of cultures, traditions, businesses, religions, languages and housing. By herding the poor and the disordered into ten city blocks, you are dooming them to a life of reinforced pathology. (Yes, I have a background in the study of social pathologies.)
    The DTES has a higher rate of HIV/AIDS than Botswana. There is a reason for this, Sarah. And it has nothing to do with the fact that we haven’t built 5 millions units of social housing in the DTES.
    In the 1970s, hard drug dealers and pimps took over street life in the DTES. You know the results. These criminals are super-capitalists. They love the fact that you want to build free housing for their victims. It’s more money in their pockets.
    Welfare Wednesday outside Pigeon Savings. You know what’s really going down. Dealers enforcing debts. It’s the inevitable result of the ghetto.
    The ghetto permits cops to shove women with MS to the sidewalk. It permits drug dealers to shove their victims out windows at the Regent. It allowed Willy Pickton to get away with serial murder for years. And women are still going missing.
    Criminal pathology reinforces social pathology. That’s what the ghetto does. Thanks for writing.

  23. I support this statement.

  24. I’ve lived in the DTES for a few years, and as an artist, this is pretty much the only place in Vancouver that I can afford to pay in rent costs. I walk by the Pantages on a daily basis. The 100 block of Hastings and Main is a sad depressing place and the building itself has been shuttered for years. It makes me sick that these so called activists calling for a boycott are not looking at the bigger picture. Nor do they represent the people here. They certainly are not my voice, nor the voice of reason. I suspect that the real reason behind people like Harsha Walia and Wendy Pederson opposing the building is because a healthy neighborhood threatens their jobs.

    Instead of working with the developers and small businesses and the community in general it seems from what I’ve read they’ve resorted to petty tactics bordering on criminal.

    I welcome affordable housing. I welcome the small businesses that may open on that block, I welcome the city doing something about the open and rampant drug dealing on the corner. When the ugly business of protesting is over, these social worker activists like Mona Woodward and Harsha Walia go home to their suburban houses in Burnaby and Surrey or Lauren Hill who lives according to her city nomination papers on Oxford Street where ever that is leaving people like me and some of my neighbors waiting and wondering what tomorrow will bring

  25. They are not developing a site that had housing before. Get over yourselves.

  26. Actually James Moffit, the people spearheading the resistance to gentrification in the DTES are DTES residents. Yes they are supported by allies who live elsewhere, but the DTES Neighbourhood Council is a major force in the resistance, is comprised of people who live in the neighbourhood and is VERY representative of the current low-income DTES population that stands to be displaced. Your lack of understanding as to how gentrification works and how it will impact your neighbours is surprising, and in my experience, not at all characteristic of the most people living in the DTES. And so what, Anonymous (“you”), if the site currently up for development didn’t have housing in it before. The ratio of condos to social housing in the neighbourhood on the whole is still totally inappropriate considering that 75% of the population of the DTES neighbourhood is low-income and insufficiently housed, and only 9 of 97 units at the proposed Sequel 138 would be available at welfare rate. The bottom line is that this development will raise property values of surrounding buildings and drive the rents up, making it more unaffordable for the people in the community, and Sequel 138 will also bring in more businesses that are neither affordable to nor geared towards the needs of the DTES current population. How very condescending of you to tell people fighting for their community to ‘get over themselves’.

  27. “If we agree with Jian Ghomeshi that at some point — and we may be way past tipping — we need to choose culture over condos, that doesn’t mean collaborating with developers for the price of a Tiki bar. It means declaring as artists and residents that the positive vision of this city collectively produced is not for sale and won’t be. It means realizing that the parasitic real estate expansion carving out Vancouver’s artistic commonwealth in the interests of profit won’t be stopped until we stop it. Save the Waldorf, sure. But there’s far more here that needs saving. Our city depends on it.”

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