City Council approves Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret to take over Public Dreams' studio space

After 25 years Public Dreams Society will be closing their doors and a collective of artists called The Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret is hoping to fill those big shoes.

Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret performer during Parade of the Lost Souls.
Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret performer during Parade of the Lost Souls. Photo credit: Jonathyn Dy.

Public Dreams Society, an arts-based group formed in 1985 to encourage community events, is officially closing operations at the end of this year. The Society produced two signature events in Vancouver: Illuminares lantern festival at Trout Lake in the summer, and Parade of the Lost Souls on Commercial Drive for Halloween.

The Public Dreams Society has certainly not had an easy go of it. In recent years, funding has often been an issue, with decreases in government funding yet production costs rising for policing, security, and infrastructure as the events gained popularity. In 2008, Illuminares was cancelled, and in 2009 Parade of the Lost Souls was cancelled. Then during the renovation of Trout Lake Community Centre, Illuminares was forced to relocate to Gastown in 2010 and Canada Place in 2011.

Earlier this year, Public Dreams announced that 2013 would be the last Illuminares they produced. They had recently experienced several abrupt staff turnovers and drastic changes to the board of directors. At the time, Artistic Director Matthew Bissett said that the society was planning to pull back and hibernate to figure things out.

Performers during the 2008 Parade of the Lost Souls.
Parade attendees in costume during the 2008 Parade of the Lost Souls. Photo credit: Monica Miller.

Unfortunately, in the months since then, the Public Dreams Society board has decided to dis-band completely. A city report stated that Public Dreams Society had provided written notice in October 2013 that they would be terminating their studio’s lease “due to the dissolution of the Society”. In 1997, Public Dreams Society was approved for a ten-year lease at a nominal fee ($1 per year) as long as they covered monthly strata fees (currently $642.60/m). When the lease expired in 2007, Public Dreams continued on a month-to-month basis. The studio is located on the corner of East 5th Avenue and Scotia Street. It is 2,254 square feet on the ground floor of The Artiste, a mixed-use building mostly with artist live/work units and some retail and office use.

Enter the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret, a collective of more than 50 artists ranging the gamut from directors and musicians to puppeteers and stilt-walkers. In 2010, when Public Dreams had to re-imagine Parade of the Lost Souls, the Dusty Flowerpot came on board to co-produce the Secret Souls Walk.

Co-Founder of the Dusty Flowerpot, Kat Single-Dain, explains that the re-imagining “brought [Parade of the Lost Souls] back to its roots in the East Vancouver neighbourhoods, making it a more intimate artful walk.” The growth in popularity had made production of the festival financially unsustainable for the small non-profit. 

“So our ironic challenge with Parade since coming on board in 2010 has been ‘How do we decrease the size and maintain the feel?’” The Dusty Flowerpot is really about co-creating art and cultural festivities. Single-Dain stresses this was key for the re-imaginging. They were brought on board as co-producers for the 2013 Parade of the Lost Souls with Public Dreams’ intention to hand over reins of the event.

Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret Society requested that the City allow them to “occupy the studio under the existing terms of the City’s lease with Public Dreams Society, which would allow them to ensure the on-going production of the festival”. On December 4, 2013, City Council passed a motion approving Dusty Flowerpot’s short-term lease of the space.

City Council requires a new lease for a long-term tenant. Standard practice is that when a space becomes available, a call for Expressions of Interest is placed by Cultural Services. Cultural Services will conduct tenant selection process beginning in January 2014 to have a lease begin July 2014. The intention is to have a long-term (10-30 year) tenancy filled by a non-profit cultural organization, which Dusty Flowerpot will be eligible to apply for at that time.

An unidentified representative of Public Dreams Society responded to an email request for comment: They stated that an official press release would be coming soon, but that Public Dreams was “very happy to have had such a long and successful run and wishes both signature events good luck!” Dusty Flowerpot has taken over production of Parade of the Lost Souls, and Public Dreams was already in discussion with other potential groups to take over Illuminares. However, if that doesn't come to pass, Single-Dain says that they "we would like to support and see it happen, and could possibly step up ourselves to do that if needed."

Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret
Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret. Photo credit: Amanda Bullick of Brutally Beautiful

Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret is hopeful about an extended lease for the studio. It would mean they will not have to relocate the fragile lanterns and puppets, as well as all the existing props, costumes, and set production materials they will be receiving from Public Dreams will not have to be moved either. In addition to the space being the focus for the yearly Parade of the Lost Souls, they would like to make other improvements to the space such as a sprung floor, which Single-Dain explains would be “suitable for all kinds of workshops, classes, rehearsals, and arts events." Dusty Flowerpot is celebrating their 5-year anniversary this year and they have big plans for the future. "We would like to see [the studio] activated with dance, clown, crafting, puppetry, and life!“

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