Condos, Condos, But Where Will The Artists Go?

Jane Wolsak feels a little down these days. The 65-year-old artist with the proper British accent whose paintings show with Gallery Jones has worked for twenty years in 901 Main, a vibrant building full of artist studios that is now slated to become condominiums.

901 Main, at Prior, currently accommodates the working studios of some 30 local artists. It has been a fixture of the neighbourhood for almost a century.

The layout of the building is uniquely suited to artist studios. Long and narrow, the building features large north facing windows on the wide side of the structure that offers optimal lighting for painters and visual artists.

"It's really quite a unique building," Wolsak says. "It's very hard for artists to find a place as perfect as this. We have really developed a community of artists here where we can collaborate and help each other in our art."

Soon life for these artists may be changed forever. Amacon, a development company that owns the building, is looking to re-develop the building in hopes to converting it into luxury condos. But the art community is not going to go let this pass without getting their voices heard.

The future of the building depends on the City. On Thursday the 21st of February at 7:30 pm there will be a second public hearing at City Hall to air issues surrounding the redevelopment of 901 Main.

Wolsak encourages all those interested to come and show their support.

According to Mira Malatestinic, who is a board member for the East Side Culture Crawl, protecting art spaces like 901 Main is vital to Vancouver’s future.

"It's important to address artist studio issues. The more we do research, the more we discover that there is no structure in place to support artists," says Malatestinic.

"I've met with a few representatives from the developers side, and I don't blame them. They really had no idea that there were so many artists in their building initially. Now it's a matter of hopefully working together and making some good changes for the city."

901 Main has long been a central hub during the Crawl, acting as a meeting point for many events during the yearly November festival.

The city has no policies in place to address the issue of affordable art space and to protect existing artist studio space from re-development. Currently, surveys are being taken to see what the exact needs are for artists to help in the development of practical city policies. The process of gathering information on the cultural needs of the city is being done by Toronto based consulting firm, Artscape. This group has extensive experience in taking into account the needs of developers and the interests of artists and citizens.

"We ask that the city hall put a delay on any development projects that involve artist studio space until there is some policy is put into place to address the work environment issue." Says Malastenic.

Malastenic says that the issue of 901 Main is not only important for artist who work out of the studios, but for also for artists all over Vancouver.

Part of the problem is the fact that artist tend to congregate in low-rent and run down areas, and subsequently act as a catalyst to the rejuvenation of the neighborhood. This draws the attention of developers who then go on to gentrify the areas and the artists are forced to move on to a new space, according to Wolsak.

Where the artists of 901 Main can go from here, remains unclear.

"We're asking that city hall put this on hold for at least 180 days so we can discuss with the developers," says Wolsak.

"If you don't nurture new artists and those just coming out of art school, you won't get the next great artists. You need to nurture art at it's starting point and that means having studio space that's affordable."

The artists of 901 Main tried to buy the building from Amacon by starting up their own non-profit co-op to support the studio space, but Amacon was too far along in the development process to take an offer.

"I've so much appreciated the building and the people there," says Wolsak. "And if we don't succeed and we have to move, I don't know if we can weather that and if the community will survive that or not."

Jane Wolsak pictured above
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