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'This should be protected': Vancouver art venues struggling with rent hikes and development –



When the Toast Collective artist space found out last month it was getting a $200-a-month rent hike, organizer Tracey Vath worried it would mean the end of the Toast — a narrow, alternative music venue that’s served as practice and performance space for the past decade. 

The space itself is not much to look at, but it means a lot for the community. The walls are thick with layers of paint over the years, and filled with nail holes from various installations. Of course, there’s a toaster to make a slice of toast whenever you’d like. 

And to stay alive for emerging artists, its costs must stay low.

“With the rent increase and with a small group of volunteers, we just didn’t know how we were going to continue,” said Vath.

Tracey Vath and the other volunteers that keep the Toast Collective music venue in Vancouver running don’t make any money of the venture, but they do it for the sake of community. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

So, Vath and her co-organizer launched a fundraiser, with 12 hours of music and a little jar set up to collect donations. By the end, it was overflowing.

“We just had to call up the community for support. And we got it. We got support all right,” Vath said. 

Through the jar and online donations, they raised around $7,000 — enough to keep the Toast afloat for months without Vath subsidizing rent from her own pocket. 

But many other art spaces aren’t so lucky in a city with rising rents and rampant development. 

The Toast Collective is a narrow and modest space, filled with second-hand furniture and handmade signs. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Alix Sales, head of cultural spaces for the City of Vancouver, said the displacement of artists has accelerated over the past few years. She said since 2018, her office has learned of 300 artists losing their studio spaces — a blow for the city’s social cohesion and economy. 

“It’s a crisis of affordability,” Sales said, adding that 63 per cent of artists live below the poverty line and have a need to keep costs low.

“We don’t want to live in a city where artists can’t afford to live and share their work.”

Indie comedy venue at risk 

Abdul Aziz at Little Mountain Gallery Vancouver is on the hunt for a new venue. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Little Mountain Gallery, which hosts an indie comedy venue near Main Street and 26th Avenue, is worried it will be next on the chopping block. 

Their perpetual fear has come true: the property is slated for development, pending approval from the city.  

“The owner of the building had kind of hinted at the fact that he was probably going to redevelop it at some point in the future, but he didn’t really give us a heads up when that development application was going to be going up,” said Abdul Aziz, operations manager at the Little Mountain Gallery. 

“I don’t see anything as funny about this,” said Comedian Ross Dauk, the seven-year host of a weekly show at the venue called Jokes Please.

Aziz and Ross Dauk with the Little Mountain Gallery said it the venue closes, the local comedy scene has a lot to lose. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

When he broke the news that the site was going to be developed, he said regular audience members hugged him and cried. 

“It was heartbreaking because I know comedians love this space, you don’t necessarily understand how much the person on the street cares about a space like this,” Dauk said.  

“I love coming here. It’s a great place,” said Robert Ferguson, who takes the bus to watch the show every Thursday night. “I’d really be sad to see it go.”

Comedian Ross Dauk performs a set at the weekly Jokes Please event at the Little Mountain Gallery in Vancouver. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

‘I don’t think it has to be inevitable’

Aziz said the non-profit board has been looking for possible replacements, but it’s a tough grind, as the venue is already seen as a bit of a unicorn in Vancouver. 

“This space the rent that we pay here and the the amount of space that we have and kind of its central location is something that is incredibly rare in the city.” Aziz said.

They pay $2,200 a month for rent. So far, the places they’ve found that are a similar size range between $4,000 and $6,000 per month. 

“We got a great deal for a really long time,” he said. 

Ross Dauk wants the city to step in so sites like the Little Mountain Gallery can stay open. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Paying more rent would mean the non-profit’s model wouldn’t work anymore, he said. Their options are to charge more for entry, or move to a smaller space — both of which go against their mandate to lower the barriers to entry for comedians and make art spaces as accessible as possible.  

Both Aziz and comedian Dauk think more should be done to preserve and create art spaces in the city. 

Why can’t a space like this exist?– Ross Dauk, comedian

“Some people think it’s inevitable that this venue is going to leave. I don’t think it has to be inevitable. I think this should be protected,” Dauk said. “Why can’t a space like this exist?”

Dauk said emerging comedians need smaller venues to practice their jokes and take risks. If the Little Mountain Gallery goes, that just leaves a few bars and a dwindling number of comedy clubs in town. 

“There, people are mostly there to buy drinks and have drinks and then maybe there’s a comedy show. This venue, people come to see comedy and it is a whole different thing,” Dauk said. 

“Comedy changes depending on where it’s made. So comedy in Vancouver would change.” 

City says preserving art spaces will take time

Alix Sales with the city said her department is aiming to keep art a priority. 

In a report filed to council in the fall, the city approved a goal of building 800,000 square feet of new, repurposed or expanded art space over the next ten years. 

Alix Sales, head of cultural spaces for the City of Vancouver, says losing art spaces affects the city’s identity. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It also set a goal for no net loss of cultural spaces like artist studios and music spaces. 

And while there is little the city can do to prevent the loss of the Little Mountain Gallery, Sales said in the future, she wants to get to a place where the city regularly negotiates with developers to retain art spaces. 

“You don’t solve massive infrastructure problems in a few years. It takes decades,” she said. 

Treading Water is a series from CBC British Columbia examining the impact of the affordability crisis on people in Metro Vancouver and across the province, including the creative solutions being used to make ends meet.

To read all of our Treading Water stories, click here.

If you have a story for our Treading Water series, please click here and tell us about it.

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Art, not arch, proposed for downtown Collingwood –



After an overarching negative response to a proposed archway in downtown Collingwood, the local business association is proposing public art instead. 

A report from Downtown Collingwood Business Improvement Area (BIA) general manager Susan Nicholson headed to council on Aug. 8 proposes a gateway feature, that is not an archway, to be designed and chosen through the use of the town’s existing public art policy. 

This new approach, states Nicholson’s report, is meant to provide an attraction that encourages customers downtown without losing the federal grant of $215,000 earmarked for the archway project. 

The proposed archway was presented to council in early March 2022. The design showed two tall poles with a black metal archway between spanning Hurontario Street at the intersection with First Street/Huron Street. On the arch were white letters reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood,” on the other. The idea, according to the BIA, was to help people find the downtown and encourage them to turn onto Hurontario Street. 

The proposal was immediately and vehemently rejected by public opinion. Letters to decried it as an eyesore and the BIA received dozens of emails and submissions opposing the design and concept of an archway in the downtown. 

A public survey put out by the town in April received nearly twice as many responses as the 2022 town budget survey with 727 responses to the archway survey and 529 of them (72.8 per cent) against an archway altogether. 

Town council was also bombarded with opposition from residents culminating to a meeting on May 30 when Mayor Keith Hull (then acting mayor) said he was surprised by the ferocity of the response to the archway. 

At the May 30 meeting, council told the BIA and town staff to go back to the drawing board to find a different way to spend the $215,000 federal grant. 

Nicholson’s proposal to use the town’s Public Art Policy to commission a gateway feature that is not an arch is in response to council’s May order.

Based on a plan approved by the BIA board, the process for the public art gateway feature, if it is approved by council, would begin with planning by an ad-hoc committee to come up with a budget and theme with an invitation to the community to participate on the committee. 

Later there would be a call to artists, a selection process with interviews, and, ultimately, the installation of the piece. 

There would be a public art working group selected for the project including town staff, BIA, community members, and representatives from the Collingwood Museum, the historical society, and the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts. 

The BIA’s goal is to move quickly through the process to have a final design and artist contracted by the end of January 2023. The federal grant must be spent on a project that is substantially complete by March 31, 2023.

If council approves this approach to commissioning a gateway feature that will double as public art, the BIA will be asking the town to cover a loss of $35,350 spent to design and commission the former arch design. 

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Graffiti Jam at mural festival celebrates street art, community – Vancouver Sun



“There’s a lot more happening now in Vancouver. I’m just happy that Vancouver’s starting to do things like that.” — Jnasty

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The rattle of spray cans and the smell of paint drifted up an alley west of Main and E. 5th on Saturday, as graffiti artists painted five metre sections of a parking lot wall.

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Brightly coloured — and often wildly abstract — letters in pink, blue and yellow took shape on a stretch of black-painted wall. An adjacent wall with a purple and red background had a large, black and white portrait of a smiling young man, his name spelled out in two-foot high white letters: Holden.

The scene was the site of the fifth annual Holden Courage Graffiti Jam, a now-regular part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, held in memory of Holden Courage, a young graffiti artist who died in 2015 at the age of 21.

“We were in contact with Holden’s mom and she works together with the VMF to put this whole thing together each year,” said local graffiti artist Jnasty, who organized the artists for this year’s Graffiti Jam. “They asked if somebody like myself could get together some artists — and that’s what we did.”

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Because graffiti is illegal, all the artists spoken to for this story requested that they only be identified by their graffiti tag names.

Graffiti artist Jnasty works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday.
Graffiti artist Jnasty works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday.

The project is funded by the Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artists, which was setup by Courage’s mother, Tara McGuire, following his death.

In a blog post from 2017, McGuire wrote about what graffiti meant to her son.

“Holden loved graffiti,” she wrote. “He loved everything about it. The creativity, the smell, the camaraderie, the rebellion, the music, the danger, the colour, the risks and the thrill.” 

Jnasty, who is originally from Hawaii, said he’s been painting for about 25 years. He appreciates the efforts by the memorial and the Mural Festival to promote street art around Vancouver.

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“There’s a lot more happening now in Vancouver,” he said of street art, noting that cities like Toronto have a much larger street art culture. “I’m just happy that Vancouver’s starting to do things like that.”

Local graffiti artist Tars, who said he has been painting for over two decades, agreed, noting it can be difficult for local street artists to find opportunities. 

“Vancouver doesn’t really give opportunities for graffiti writers too much,” he said. “This event is a really good opportunity to do our own thing.”

Graffiti artist Tars works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday.
Graffiti artist Tars works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Virus, a local graffiti artist who said he has been painting since the late 80s, appreciated the opportunity to revisit early passions and connect with old friends, though he acknowledged concerns about gentrification.

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“I don’t get to do this much. I’ve got other responsibilities now,” he said. “So for me, it’s just getting together with friends.”

He noted that large public artworks add value to not just to the neighbourhood but property prices as well. “I feel like the artists should get compensated for that.” 

Victoria-based graffiti artist Theme, who has been involved with the festival on two other occasions, said he was impressed by the impact the festival has on the neighbourhood.

“Every year there’s new (murals) going up,” he said. “It’s crazy the transformation it’s had on the city.”

Graffiti artist Virus works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday.
Graffiti artist Virus works on a creation at the Holden Courage Graffiti Jam as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival in Vancouver on Saturday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

All the artists Postmedia spoke to said they valued the sense of community and camaraderie fostered by the festival.

“I haven’t seen these guys in a year,” Virus said. “We made it through some crazy times. And now we’re here.”

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Indigenous artist uses quills to showcase art, neurodiversity –



For some people, a porcupine quill might be something to back away from, but for Indigenous artist Vanessa Dion Fletcher, they are integral pieces to her creative – and learning – process.

A Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse artist, Dion Fletcher’s remarkable art is at the heart of Backwards & Forwards: Reflections in Porcupine Quills, an exhibition now on at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Curated by Aram Han Sifuentes, Backwards & Forwards is at the centre’s temporary gallery space at Town Hall through Sept. 17.

“These works range from intimate pieces on paper to large mural installations,” says the Aurora Cultural Centre. “At the core is a negotiation between the artist’s hands and porcupine quills. She pulls them from the body of a porcupine, stains them using natural and synthetic dyes, handpicks each quill based on its colour, shape, and size, and bends them onto paper with thread. The building up of the quills form abstract shapes and lines that are elemental and can be interpreted in multiple ways, where a circle in quillwork can represent time, a colour wheel, and a portal all at once. 

“Slowness is an important political aspect of Dion Fletcher’s practice. The making is inherently slow, and the intended experience for the viewers is also slow, where one slowly follows the lines and details of the quillwork and gradations of colour. Slowness is also a reflection on neurodiversity, where ‘being slow’ is a derogatory term used for those who are neurodiverse. In emphasizing slowness through porcupine quills, Vanessa Dion Fletcher claims indigeneity in process and craft but also approaches and understandings of neurodiversity and disability.”

Bringing the show together was not a fast process for Han Sifuentes.

A Korean-American, Han Sifuentes says when Dion Fletcher asked her to curate her unique exhibition, it was a “learning curve” to gain knowledge on quillwork, but was very excited to take on the task.

“Why Vanessa asked me to be the curator is one of the conversations that I had been having within the fields of craft, being able to embrace diversity within the fields of craft and really looking at this hemisphere in northern America being able to really embrace and really do our work to honour Indigenous craft, artists and artisans,” said Han Sifuentes. “I wanted to talk about the stories and talk about the metaphor that she uses in her practice. Her work just seems really simple when you look like it in terms of the quill work but what she’s doing in the context and conversation round craft, around neurodiversity is also very strong and very powerful, so I wanted to be able to talk about all the things she is doing in her practice. 

“Being neurodiverse as well and really thinking about deconstructing the western approach to neurodiversity and really thinking about learning itself and embracing that there are many different ways to learn – that is something she really wanted to do in this work as well. She was telling me about the quill work that she was making and how a lot of it reminded her about how she was learning [the Lenape language]. For her, how she was learning it was she would have to learn the syllables forwards, then backwards, then forward again. Thinking about a lot of these spirals and circles and wheels that she’s making, I was asking her, how does one read it? I think a lot of us would read it from going around the circle clockwise but she was actually talking about the circles being really important because you can learn it backwards and forwards. That is how she was thinking how people read and approach her quillwork. You can go kind of in multiple directions. She was thinking along these lines in quillwork as storytelling and reading and how you can go in multiple directions.”

Quills as an art medium might be deceptively simple, but how they are transformed is unique, and the results intricate and spectacular.

The artist harvests the quills herself, including from porcupines that didn’t quite make it across the road, makes natural dyes from plants and other materials wherever possible, and the process to get from quill to finished artwork is both methodical and powerful.

For more information on Backwards & Forwards: Reflections in Porcupine Quills, including video Art Bytes with the artist, visit

Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran

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