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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Illegal showings and performances go back to when the first cave painter borrowed space in another monkey's cave, but eventually a group gets too big to fly beneath the radar. That's when i's must be dotted and t's must be crossed.

Sharing is caring

Aside from scenery production, the Arts Factory will have a wood shop and metal shop, as well as several standalone spaces which can be utilized by other arts groups. Additionally, there will be upstairs office space, with conference rooms and a hot-desk area. The entry corridor will be wide enough to be used as a gallery space or for public events. Two of the walls along the fly tower will be collapsible, so that the open area can be opened further.

The Arts Factory
The Arts Factory: bnode Architects

At the moment, the Arts Factory is operating in nearby-exile, across the alleyway and next to the new United We Can recycling depot. Once Yates has finalized his work and the physical labour is done, the Arts Factory can move in for real.

Kirby is thinking further ahead: “This is a 70,000-square-foot building, and we’re only taking over 24,000 square feet. We can turn this whole thing into an arts facility.”

 Innes Yates at 281 Industrial Ave
Innes Yates shows off the empty section of 281 Industrial Ave.

Aside from providing the space, Kirby touts the security offered to artists who will move into the Arts Factory: not just physical security (locks and alarms so your stuff doesn’t get stolen), but the knowledge that this place will be here next week, next month, next year. Part of that is completing the paperwork obstacle course to make sure that everything they do there is legal, from what gets made to how waste is disposed of.

A shared space also provides the opportunity for artists to collaborate across disciplines. “In the early stages, we were using the word ‘incubator’... due to shared spaces and certain shared resources, you can have an exchange of ideas, of expertise, of energy between artists who are more experienced and established, and younger emerging artists.”

Old is the new new

Yates' and Kirby's project proves to the community at large that complex arts development projects are not just the stuff of wishful thinking. “The project receives the same kind of rigor and attention and care that, you know,  a condo development would receive, or some kind of shopping development would. Getting those things taken seriously in Vancouver is a challenge.”

This is tied into the notion of what it means to be urban. “We’re essentially a city of property owners, [in that] property owners are given more rights than everyone else, in my opinion," said Yates. "We still kind of live with that idea that the city is just a collection of property-owners.”

Vancouver has also been operating under a tear-it-down-to-build-it up mentality as well, which is not lost on Kirby. Something can be old without looking old, echoing back to the static Yates has been getting. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘Oh, why’re you renovating, why don’t you just build new?’ Yeah, sure, but the cost of building new would just be...” Kirby doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

He says, "There’s kind of a bootstrapping ethic in Vancouver. The resources that are available, even though they’re scarce, they get stretched out enough that [a project becomes] actually possible.” It’s not the sort of approach that can easily be made into a model, though, Kirby concedes.

Like Charles Barkley, the Arts Factory can be a role model without trying to be a role model. “Perhaps the City has an appetite for doing this with other underused buildings in its real-estate portfolio,” muses Yates. (The City’s real-estate holdings are divided into two categories: properties that must turn a buck, and properties that don’t have to be profitable at all.)

City governments are notorious for their multiple personalities: while noting that Vision Vancouver is undeniably condo-happy, Yates believes the party’s support for the arts to also be genuine: “It’s all under the same roof, that’s just how it is.”

For now, though, it's about pulling the plants from the box factory's walls so that the city's various artists can roll up their sleeves and get to work.

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