“Within artistic communities in Vancouver 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.”


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.

16 responses to ““Within artistic communities in Vancouver 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.”

  1. Alison writes unclearly, but her general point is well taken: Vancouver’s housing bubble has stretched every thread of the city’s socioeconomic fabric.

  2. It’s true that people not earning a lot of money have a hard time affording expensive real estate. It’s an interesting constraint that an artistic community seems to want to co-locate with those who are willing and able to pay so much more.

    • And after all, it’s only “natural” that real estate in the lower mainland should be so expensive.
      p s not really — it’s an illusion that others are, by any traditional measure, “able” to pay local prices. see: low interest rates, lax lending standards, developer-controlled “public” policy, etc.

      • Precisely.
        For years it looked smart to stretch to buy as much RE as possible.
        Now, (possibly) the great unwind begins…

    • “With those who are willing and able to pay so much more.”

      I question this assertion.

      Vancouver is not a high-income city. Average incomes in Portland, Oregon exceed Vancouver’s.

      The city has a niche high-income of earners and wealthy immigrants, but they hardly characterize the population as a whole.

      And they have not driven the surge in real estate prices, at least not alone. Rather, it’s been regular folks. Highly indebted, regular folks.

      • I’m interested. In manufacturing, companies locate to where land is cheap to save costs. I know art is different, somehow, bit pardon me for coming off as obtuse.

      • El & YVR:
        I’d agree locals have driven the spec bubble.. overreaching for the stars.

        When it comes to having a vibrant community of artists (one usually adds ‘young’ as a qualifier but it really applies to all ages) good value (even ‘inexpensive’) RE allows them TIME and SPACE to create art. That process is sorely restricted by overpriced RE.
        From the point of view of showing and selling art, that may be ‘different’, as a lot of that happens in places where artists don’t actually live…
        BUT I would argue that the cultural milieu that has developed around Vancouver activities and values over the last 20+ years likely makes for a very poor mental environment in which to make art. Perhaps that’ll be proven wrong by something remarkable emerging, but currently one doesn’t see that..
        Smart people go where there is good value.. and there is a Darwinian selection effect….

      • I’m no expert on artistic communities but would agree with you both, vreaa and YVR.

        The best art arises out of hunger, necessity, adversity. Such conditions do not tend to prevail among the upper classes. On the other hand, the upper classes are the main buyers of art, and therefore just as necessary to its production as creators.

        So, a community needs to have a diverse mix of people and incomes and neighbourhoods.

        This decreasingly describes Vancouver.

  3. Flipper mass burned:

  4. Interesting to do a comparison between 4344 Skeena and 4316 Skeena. They are within spitting distance of each other and both are priced at $1.298M.

  5. Who is this wanker “Mortimer” that pontificates about Van real estate?
    Posted from the great white bowl.

  6. The greatest threat to the “financial services” industry – those weasels selling stocks, mutual funds, and garbage life insurance – is home ownership.
    Guess what Kevin “Beady Eyes” O’Leary advises: “Don’t buy.”
    How else could his sales people flog products?
    When someone takes on home ownership, they’re not going to be receptive to the blandishments from his call centre.
    “Beady Eyes” O’Leary. What a ridiculous yapping dog; a ridiculous yapping desperate to be a billionaire yapping dog. How he wishes he was a billionaire instead of having merely hundreds of millions.
    What kind of an idiot would pay to go see him mouth off?
    His sales staff … and their families … and anyone else he can cajole, and bully to attend.
    No one is going to pay to see this money-obsessed cockroach.

    • That time when Starbucks barista / housing analyst, Annie Carnegie, forgot that a significant chunk of the profit collected by the financial services industry comes from mortgages.

    • So Arnie, you’re admitting then that the biggest impediment to having any sort of liquid savings or investments is “owning” an overpriced home? Because that’s exactly what you said. You may have said it inadvertently, in your own clumsy, stultifyingly stupid manner, but you absolutely said it. You came right out and admitted that homeowners (home debtors?) don’t have cash to invest, or even to buy life insurance. No money for life insurance! That’s what your post says.

      You should stick to reposting crappy MLS listings and offering commentary on the rodentia and entomological specimens residing therein. Less likely to contradict yourself that way.

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