Ian Wallace, Construction Site (Olympic Village) III, 2011. Photolaminate and acrylic on canvas, 183 x 244 cm.
“When you’re in Vancouver, within artistic communities, it’s hard to spend more than 15 minutes at a social gathering without talking about the cost of rent or knowing of someone who is being evicted,” says Am Johal, director of community engagement at Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.
In my day-to-day in Vancouver, I find myself preoccupied with constant reminders of my own impermanence. Exiting my beloved Mount Pleasant rental apartment, I’m hit by a thud of anxiety each time I see a development notice erected in my neighbourhood. I pass by so many of my once-favourite galleries (and former places of employment), now repurposed or left empty. Friends and artists leave. Those of us who remain spend most of our time defending the choice to stay. Our defence often sounds optimistic, perhaps naive: staying here and making art is important, too.
In this five-part series, I intend to think through how the housing crisis is having an impact not only on the production of art in Vancouver, but also on art’s responsive and changing communities. Issues of unaffordability, including high rent and inaccessible housing, go beyond dwindling supplies of accessible gallery, home, institutional and studio spaces. Complicating these issues is that artists and art centres are often themselves gentrifying elements within a city, a phenomenon already long-acknowledged and in-process in Vancouver. If we know well by now that unaffordability generates and exacerbates inequality generally, it feels necessary to emphasize that it also generates and exacerbates inequality, and tension, including class stratification, within artistic communities, too. It can be a contradictory conversation or, at least, a circular one. But if we acknowledge the role of the arts in gentrification, we should be looking deeper at what this disparity of opportunity in culture comprises. If the art community is asked to navigate, evade or compromise an ever-tightening commercial grip, we should really be talking about who in that community is benefiting, and suffering, most from unaffordability.
– image and excerpt from Who Has the Right to Art?, Alison Sinkewicz, Canadian Art, 31 Jan 2019.