What this Says About The Potential for a New Arts District
Since January, Red Gate, an arts society dedicated to showcasing experimental and emerging artists, has been settling into their new space on Granville Island. In a fortuitous turn of events, after being on uneven ground due to changes in their lease, Red Gate was given the Revue Stage. In this small theatre across from the Arts Club, they will rent rehearsal and studio space, and curate events alongside their location at 855 E Hastings. Against the larger backdrop of a space deficit, worsening taxation and rent prices, this achievement for the Arts Society suggests the potential for a new kind of a growth on the Island, one that will involve a more diverse nightlife and an increase in arts-related institutions and services.
In its current iteration, Red Gate has been around since 2012; but co-founder Jim Carrico has been operating artist-run centres since 1981. The first one was in Yaletown, but in the course of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification process, Jim has been priced out of nearly every downtown neighbourhood. To understand the importance of the East Van location for young, experimental artists, we spoke with Aidan Bugliarisi. Aidan is a multidisciplinary artist and Red Gate volunteer, who has firsthand experience with the positive impact of Red Gate’s work in the community.
“Even when I was underage and would only perform all-ages events at the venue, I always felt respected as an artist, and in retrospect, I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of other, bigger venues.”
“Red Gate is a landmark for experimental art and music in Vancouver. I think the fact that experimentalism is emphasized in the venue’s mandate sets the tone for what type of space it is. When people enter the space, they’re more likely to be open to experimentalism, and when artists perform or exhibit their work, they’re more comfortable experimenting. In my experience, this sentiment is particularly important for youth artists and musicians, as experimentalism is an important part of refining one’s artistic or musical practice. Further, I’ve never felt inferior because of my age at Red Gate, even being the youngest staff member. Even when I was underage and would only perform all-ages events at the venue, I always felt respected as an artist, and in retrospect, I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of other, bigger venues.”
To find out if Red Gate will maintain their inclusive programming and community outreach at the new space, we also spoke with co-founder Ana Rose Carrico. She is enthusiastic that the Revue Stage will expand the artistic opportunities that Red Gate has been able to provide.
“It’s a great opportunity, and we feel like we have a lot to offer in the direction that the people in Granville Island want to go in, to help fill the vacuum left by Emily Carr, in terms of experimental art and the youth demographic. We’ll have studios upstairs for rent, affordable studio space, and it’ll be interesting because we haven’t had an opportunity to branch out into that form of arts before. We’ve had burlesque, theatre, comedies, fair amount of experimental noise, but now we’re able to broaden into doing variety shows, as well as more community panels and workshops.”
“I have a fantasy to have a dedicated all-ages venue, it’s ludicrous that a city this size doesn’t have that.”
As for all-ages shows, Ana Rose understands that there is still a deficiency in Vancouver in terms of space and programming for those under 19. “I have a fantasy to have a dedicated all-ages venue, it’s ludicrous that a city this size doesn’t have that. One of my goals long term is to have that type of venue on the island.”
After being asked about the geographical contrast with the other location, Ana Rose defends Granville Island, saying, “A lot of locals just don’t go there. It’s a weird blind spot but it’s actually quite accessible. Most of our demographic is from East Van, but Strathcona is not really affordable anymore, so they’ve been going so far east; some of them have even moved to South Vancouver, so this new space is probably better for them.”
In fact, the unique positionality of Granville Island, as physically removed and also protected from residential development by legislation, is part of the reason why it has the potential to grow as a cultural district.
To learn more about these qualities, we spoke with Jessica Schauteet, president of the Granville Island Community and Business Association. Jessica, a board member of Granville Island 2040, and the woman behind Kroma Artist Acrylics, was instrumental in helping Red Gate secure their lease.
“One day over tea at Kroma,” explains Jessica, “my friend described the situation Red Gate was in – losing their lease and in jeopardy of shutting down. I just contacted Jim, Anatolia and Katayoon and started a dialogue. Then I started scheduling meetings with management and eventually brought GI management to their space on East Hastings. I felt that Granville Island needed to help them survive in the city. Also, I’ve wanted live music down here for a long time… because there isn’t much residential down here we should be louder. Much louder! But that’s just my opinion.”
“Granville Island can (and should) directly respond this crisis and mass exodus of artists and young people in Vancouver.”
As a champion for civil causes and someone involved in the arts community, Jessica believes that Granville could be one answer to Vancouver’s struggling arts community. “Granville Island can (and should) directly respond this crisis and mass exodus of artists and young people in Vancouver. I want to unlock Granville Island as a resource for the creative community of the Vancouver/Lower Mainland, and be rewoven back into the creative cultural fabric of the city. I see Granville Island’s relevance increasing over time, especially for the arts community, as we see the fabric of Vancouver changing so rapidly, making the city’s real estate less accessible to artists and craftspeople. The creative cultural mandate of Granville Island is a safe haven from these outside pressures.”
The reason for this, says Jessica, can be traced back to the Island’s inception. “Granville Island is a very unique urban opportunity place in that it is federal public land, which belongs to all Canadians. It has a radical land use mandate intended to support urban and social experimentation”.
Indeed, in a founding document put together by the board of trustees, Granville Island is positioned as a place that could fulfill fundamental needs for creativity in an urban landscape that has been “frustrated by the process of urbanization.” Currently, the nightlife mostly consists of theatre and high-end restaurants, and an arts scene operating mostly during the day which is majority commercial. One might consider then, given the original intentions for the land, if Granville Island, in its current state, has been commercialized beyond the extent that was originally intended. However, there are many dedicated business owners and committee members looking to reimagine Granville Island with nightlife that is more beneficial to locals, especially youth, and to uphold the requirement for artists studios, which is currently 80,000 square feet under mandate. It is these unique circumstances, along with self-sustainability, non-specific building zoning, protection from real estate pressures, and the prioritization of public good, that make Granville Island fertile land for expansion and development. With Emily Carr now moving to Great Northern Way, ample space will be available for arts groups to reinvent the way the island is being used.
The Beaumont, a Mount Pleasant based “arts nucleus” which provides gallery and studio space, is also competing for a new home on the island due to the fact that they recently suffered an 80% tax increase and can no longer afford to sustain their lease. Sadly, the Beaumont is just one example of many groups around the city, making it hard to forget that this victory for the Red Gate is tied to a much larger battle.
“Unfortunately, Red Gate’s struggle for permanence is not unique from what I’ve observed” remarks Aidan. “Accessible DIY art spaces and communities are not given the greatest circumstances to sustain themselves in Vancouver. I’ve been witnessing DIY spaces close down around me for various reasons, seemingly more and more rapidly since I first encountered the scene at fifteen.”
However, even in the midst of this challenging climate, Aidan, as well as Ana Rose and Jessica remain positive about the future.
“I am hopeful for the future,” says Ana Rose, “we’ve been burned a lot in the past trying to find space to rent, so at first it was hard to believe that something good was happening, I was like waiting for the other shoe to fall. It very much could be exactly what we’ve wanted, and it is kind of a crazy thing that they’re willing to take that leap with us. It’s almost way too nice for us, I definitely feel like we might be griming it up a little bit, but I think that is sort of what they want. It’s definitely an experiment, and it speaks volumes that they’re willing to experiment with us, I’m not sure how well we’re going to function, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Along with Ana Rose, Aidan feels a similar excitement about the change.
“A constant goal for Red Gate that excites me is looking for the next step. We’re always interested in what is next for our space and community, whether it be in terms of accessibility, diversity, or anything else that may help us stick to our mandate of experimentalism and affordability, or even build on it. Adversely, the main challenge we and every other DIY space encounter is simply affording to exist. We constantly have to swim against the aggressive current that is gentrification. The fact that the Revue Stage is being granted to us, however, gives me hope that people in positions of authority are beginning to realize how important and valuable sustainable DIY art spaces are.”
Aidan Bugliarisi releases music under the name Sol Speech and is involved with other arts groups and collectives such as a the Elastic Collective, a collective for young women and LGBTQ+ artists.
For inquiries or suggestions about programming, contact Red Gate here: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the cultural development happening on Granville Island, visit here.