Arts Factory: real estate for Vancouver's professional artists

Architect Innes Yates shows off Vancouver's newest arts space, the first of its kind in the city.

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281 Industrial Ave
Christo may have gotten to it first.

Elia Kirby runs the Great Northern Way Scene Shop, which specializes in making sets for stage productions and movies. After Kirby and General Manager Marietta Kozak lost their original space, they teamed up with Yates to work on a more ambitious incarnation; one that would include other artists and disciplines under one roof. The Arts Factory was born.

After a few false starts, The Arts Factory entered the winning bid to occupy 281 Industrial Ave. The prize: a ten-year lease. Since professional arts groups are constantly wrangling funds across multiple timelines. “Elia’s really creative with funding and stretching resources,” says Yates. Still, arts-group budgets must stretch thinner than a pair of recalled Lululemon tights. Anything less than a ten-year lease isn’t very useful.

Kirby says, “A lot of the serious proposals that came forward, everyone said it had to be a minimum of ten years.” That matches the timeframes of the larger grants for which so may groups must fight.

In this case, the money comes from grants ranging from federal heritage funding to a potential slice of the Rize project’s CAC pie.

After winning the lease, nothing happened for a while... until the sale of the Waldorf hit the news. That lit a fire under the City’s collective ass, and the project to revitalize the box factory was fast-tracked.

The Arts Factory will not require any rezoning in terms of built form, since it is mostly using what’s already there. The main addition is the fly tower, a lifted roof section that will let in precious natural light. The name comes from that tall section of a theatre's backstage area, where scene panels are lifted and lowered onto the stage.

Arts Factory: The fly tower
The fly tower: bnode Architects

New breed

The Arts Factory will be the first architectural project in Vancouver to take advantage of a 2013 by-law change (pdf) which allowed for artist studio space as a primary function in an industrial area. Before that, using an industrial building to commit acts of art was conditional upon the venue’s primary use as a more mainstream industrial space.

However, the zoning is still tricky, says Yates: the space would have to be re-zoned in order to legally host gallery events. Normally the city hands out rezoning permits like candy on Halloween, but “for condo developers,” counters Yates, “ not for this type of thing.” The potential, though, is huge, he says; noting that a space like the Arts Factory could not only champion the creation of larger-scale art, but the display of that art; and to larger audiences.

The artists are already here, says Yates: “We have an amazing scene here, actually. The contemporary arts scene in Vancouver, in North America, it’s probably number two or number three.” The Hamburgerbanhof’s art-book store features over a dozen books on work by Vancouver artists, Yates says with no small glint of pride in his eye.

Yates echoes what Esther Rausenberg had said at the Preserving Cultural Spaces talk: artists need production space. “To date, it’s been these little hovel-like spaces that are carved out of wherever, that are illegal, you can’t actually call them galleries.”

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