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City's visual arts district disintegrating, one gallery at a time – Vancouver Sun



“It seems like there are more galleries closing than opening so the opportunities for artists to show their work are diminishing.” — Shane O’Brien of Gallery Jones

Shane O’Brien, co-owner of Gallery Jones located in The Flats.

Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

The gradual disappearance of Vancouver’s visual arts neighbourhood looks like it will pick up steam in 2020.

Once marketed as The Flats, it is an area east of Main from Industrial Avenue to the north to East 7th to the south. At its height, it grew into a mixture of about a dozen non-profit and private art galleries where people could easily walk from one gallery to another and see modern and contemporary works by local and international artists. In 2017, The Flats held its fifth annual summer block party.

But that’s all changed since then. First Catriona Jeffries, arguably one of the top art spaces in the country, closed in 2018 and opened a new location on East Cordova earlier this year. Then Winsor Gallery, after 16 years in three different locations, closed its space in the neighbourhood.

Galleries that remain include private ones such as Elan Fine Art and Macaulay & Co Fine Art and non-profits such as grunt and Burrard Arts Foundation.

By next year, two other top galleries will have to move to make way for the new Broadway Subway extension. A third may also have to move to a new location before the end of 2020.


Gallery Jones has a year to go on its lease at 1-258 East 1st. But with a station on the new subway extension planned by the new Emily Carr University of Art & Design, rents in the area are increasing by as much as 50 to 75 per cent, said Shane O’Brien, co-owner and director.

“That’s not sustainable for our business,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen.

“It seems like there are more galleries closing than opening so the opportunities for artists to show their work are diminishing.”

The Equinox Gallery.

Francis Georgian /


The ministry of transportation and highways said construction on the Broadway Subway is expected to start in the fall of 2020. That means demolishing 525 Great Northern Way, the industrial building where Equinox Gallery and Monte Clark Gallery, two of the cities top art galleries, are located.

Andy Sylvester, owner of Equinox Gallery. said he and his agent are looking every day for a new location.

“I’ve looked at, I don’t know, 50 buildings. There is a significant and complicated problem in how art galleries function in respect to legislation at city hall and the taxes and the rent. It’s a very different world for us now compared to when we moved here.”

Equinox, one of the city’s oldest art galleries, was founded in 1972 by Elizabeth Nichol. Equinox moved from South Granville to The Flats in 2012.

Andy Sylvester the owner of Equinox Gallery.

Francis Georgian /


At 14,000 sq. ft, Equinox has more floor space than any other private art gallery in Vancouver. Sylvester realizes he’s not going to find anything that size at a price he can afford. But he can’t even find anything half that size.

One of the biggest problems he’s facing is the city’s policy of taxing a building on its “highest and best use” which is determined by B.C. Assessment based on zoning and market evidence. If a one story building, for example, is on a site zoned for a 20-storey condo tower, the smaller building can be taxed at the rate of the bigger building.

He found one potential new home but taxes of $147,000 a year made the site uneconomic.

Sylvester said he remembers being inspired the first time he walked into 525 Great Northern Way, the former paint and mechanical shop for Finning International.

“The floor was painted black and it was a rough looking space,” he said. “You could envision possibilities that would inspire people. That’s what I still want.”


Monte Clark, who has owned and operated Monte Clark Gallery for almost 30 years, said while he’s actively looking for a new gallery, he would prefer to put all that energy into promoting his artists.

Art galleries showing challenging contemporary art like his are in a grey area when it comes to zoning.

“Are we retail or are we a warehouse?” Clark asked.

Yes, he said, his business is retail because people come into the gallery to buy art. But a lot of the work his gallery does is with collectors by email and phone calls from people who may come to the gallery itself to see a work.

His gallery has also become a storage space for art works because artists can no longer afford large studios where they once were able to keep their work. It’s also a workplace where art works are framed and shipped to collectors — often on approval.

“We created our own art zone,” he said about The Flats.

“Now it is about to be completely dismantled. You’d think someone at the city would meet with us and say: ‘OK you guys, what can we do?’”

O’Brien of Gallery Jones said he’s “stubbornly holding onto the idea” that galleries and visual artists make valuable contributions to a city.

”I want to make it so that artists can have viable careers where they’re not living below the poverty line, don’t have to move to Vancouver Island or Saskatoon,” he said.

“But that’s becoming increasing difficult day by day.”


Don MacMillan, the owner of South Main Gallery, located on the southern edge of The Flats, said the closure of his gallery at the end of September had nothing to do with the high cost of real estate.

That’s because he owned his ground floor unit at East 6h and Main. His reasons were personal.

When his mother and a few of his friends died, the arrival of his 68th birthday made him think of his own mortality even though he was having “the most fun” he’d ever had in his life putting on exhibitions and working with artists.

“The last year was one of the best financially but not enough to hire a few more people,” MacMillan said.

“Being in business for years, you know what it would take to get it there. I don’t have the same push and energy to do that any longer.”

One thing he said was missing in Vancouver is an association of art galleries. He recognizes that art galleries are protective of their client lists but it might help to deal with shared issues by presenting a united front.

At the end of June, Kimoto Gallery on West 6th just west of Granville closed after more than 70 exhibitions in six years.

Construction of an 11-storey building across the street would have led to a drastic reduction in walk-in business Monday to Friday, said gallerist Katsumi Kimoto.

“It is a tough business and with higher rents and taxes it’s become increasingly more difficult to stay in the established art gallery areas,” he said in an email.


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Cape Breton woman's COVID-19 inspired public art show features face masks and personal sentiments –




Bailee Higgins hopes her public art project will help promote an important public health measure while connecting people in the community.

I Wear A Mask For Sydney Mines is a series of digital portraits of people who live or work in Sydney Mines wearing masks, which are designed to reflect their personalities. Included with each portrait is a comment from the subject about why they wear a face mask or a little about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a project that’s meant to bring people together since we can’t get physically together,” said Higgins, who is in the art education program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax.

“And it’s a project that can encourage people to wear a face mask as a way to help protect everyone during the pandemic, which I think is an important message.”

“Mama says our masks make us superheroes.” #iwearamaskforsydneymines, digital portrait by Bailee Higgins. CONTRIBUTED


Created for a public art class Higgins is taking at NSCAD University, the Sydney Mines native received a Rising Youth grant so she could continue the project until March 1.

During the last week of February, she is planning a virtual livestreaming show of all the portraits she’s completed to this point. But the artist, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., plans to continue doing portraits until the end of the pandemic.

“I want to get as many people as possible involved so we can get as many people’s experiences included,” she said.


One participant who is a COVID-19 survivor living off-island wrote a statement that Higgins calls “powerful.”

In it, the woman said her health will never be the same again and that she wants to live in a world where people care about protecting people around them.

“Our cases have been pretty low here. So hearing from someone who has had it and is still suffering from the lasting effects is really powerful,” Higgins said.

“I am from Sydney Mines and am home all the time to see my family. We will retire and come home. I work in health care. I am a COVID survivor ..." #iwearamaskforsydneymines series by artist Bailee Higgins. CONTRIBUTED
“I am from Sydney Mines and am home all the time to see my family. We will retire and come home. I work in health care. I am a COVID survivor …” #iwearamaskforsydneymines series by artist Bailee Higgins. CONTRIBUTED


Alex Cormier saw Higgins’s Facebook post looking for subjects for the I Wear A Mask series and the mother of two said she wanted to participate in the project because protecting others is a message that hits close to home.

“It’s affected our family directly, the COVID pandemic. My mother had COVID and now she suffers long-term effects from COVID. Her lungs are permanently damaged,” Cormier said about her decision to be a model in the series.

“If by helping promote the message that face masks work, if we can protect anyone else’s mother or grandmother or father or someone else in the community by wearing masks, then we should do what we can to get that message across.”

“... As a community pharmacist, I have been involved in front line primary care, doing our best as a team to keep our staff and patients safe.” #iwearamaskforsydneymines digital portrait series by artist Bailee Higgins. CONTRIBUTED
“… As a community pharmacist, I have been involved in front line primary care, doing our best as a team to keep our staff and patients safe.” #iwearamaskforsydneymines digital portrait series by artist Bailee Higgins. CONTRIBUTED


Each digital portrait takes about an hour and a half to complete and is done on an iPad with a special pen which allows the artist to draw right on the screen.

To date, Higgins has completed 40 portraits and hopes to finish at least 100 by the time the pandemic is over.

Anyone interested in being a model in the I Wear A Mask For Sydney Mines series can contact Higgins by email at [email protected], through Facebook messenger on the project page or by phone at 902-578-9444.

Nicole Sullivan is an education, enterprise and diversity reporter for the Cape Breton Post. 


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ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre to re-open February 2 – Alberni Valley News





The Rollin Art Centre is currently closed, but will re-open Feb. 2 with an exhibit featuring some pieces from its permanent collection.

In 1995, Robert Aller donated many works of art—including four of his own paintings—to the Community Arts Council. This collection began while he was enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art in 1946. Beginning Feb. 2, part of his collection will be on display for everyone to enjoy.

Don’t miss this opportunity to view the work of some of the most brilliant artists in Canadian history.


For $20 you will receive 10 books in one bag, all in the same genre!

By purchasing a bag of books, you will also be helping Rollin Art Centre during this difficult time. Choose from mysteries, fiction, fantasy, romance, cooking, home improvements, travel, cooking, pre-teen chapter books (e.g. Nancy Drew), children’s books and even puzzles ($2 each). Your support for Rollin Art Centre is greatly needed and much appreciated.


The Community Arts Council is designing a new Alberni Valley artist and studio guide. If you are interested in being included in this brochure/guide, please call the Rollin Art Centre at 250-724-3412 for more information.

The guide will include local artists, and a map. Five thousand guides will be printed and distributed to the tourist information centre and local hot spots.

The extended deadline is Feb. 27, 2021.


This year’s community painting days at the Glenwood Center have been cancelled. Instead, there will be “Paint a Banner at Home” program. Please email the club at to express interest.

Melissa Martin is the Arts Administrator for the Community Arts Council, at the Rollin Art Centre and writes for the Alberni Valley News. Call 250-724-3412. Email:

Artart exhibit

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Help with Art Grant aAplications! – northeastNOW



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We strive to achieve the highest ethical standards in all that we do. Our newsroom abides by the RTNDA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and follows the Canadian Press Stylebook.


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