2011 Archive

Red Gate Scrapbook

jbiz & rylsee by paolo

Summer 2010, remember the good times...


October 17, 2011, "black monday", eviction day for the red gate. we went down to CRAB park and freed some art from this material plane. PS we took the gates. (click the image to view slideshow)


Meet the "new owner"

So it's all but official - the city has pushed the owner to renovate the building, and he's selling it instead. Not that it makes much difference to us who is kicking us to renovate the building, so they can rent it out for 3 or 4 times what we're paying. Anyway he wants us out immediately, apparently the city is leaning on him to vacate the building. He dropped around today with the prospective buyer, Steven Lippman, who has already developed most of the block. He says he's going to come and change the locks on us tomorrow, and throw all our stuff in the trash if it's not out. Thanks dude, remember the good times.

Appropriately enough, the city council is meeting this week to vote on the "Artist Studio Review" recommendations for how the city is going to make it easier for spaces like, well, just like this one! I'm going to register to speak to the motion, it would be nice to get some peeps out just to let them know we're paying attention. Maybe we can all show up in hazmat suits to protect ourselves from the intense levels of irony.

Here's a link to the agenda for the meeting (thursday at 10 AM)

we're item #3 - the proposals they are voting on are here.

they are recommending the following "actions":

opportunities for studio development
improvements to functionality of studios
timely issuance of permits and licences for studio development
identify known multi-tenant studios
implement “interim program” for artist studios
mechanism for ensuring artist tenure in newly approved studios
notification of approved uses for artist studio buildings
engagement and learning opportunities for artists.

and yet we haven't really seen any of this, and in fact it's the city that is forcing the issue here, so we need to at least hold them to account for this.

on a related note, anyone know of any spaces available? :)
or eccentric billionaires?

Letter to the Mayor

An Open Letter from the Red Gate to Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Vancouver City Council

The former “Trocadero Building” at 152-156 West Hastings has been an ad-hoc, unofficial, community driven cultural space for more than 30 years. Operating since 2004 as the Red Gate “cultural wildlife refuge”, it has provided affordable studio, rehearsal, and exhibition space for a diverse community of artists, musicians, film/video artists, etc, including JC/DC Studios, home of the New Pornographers, Destroyer, and other internationally recognized recording artists. At a meeting on Monday at City Hall with three levels of officials from the Building Inspections Branch our landlord received an "Order To Cease Occupancy" letter, effective September 26. This represents the "final" extension of a 30-day "Order to Vacate" letter received on May 24, citing "unsafe and hazardous conditions," based on an informal inspection in January 2011. Please note that we were not previously informed of the results of the January inspection, despite assurances at that time that we would be subject to a complete and formal inspection, and the order of May 24 was not phrased as 'these are the safety issues which need to be addressed in order to continue occupying the building,' but rather 'these are the safety issues that require the building to be vacated.' After a spontaneous letter-writing campaign on behalf of our many members and supporters, we were granted a 60-day extension, in which we were given the opportunity to deal with cited deficiencies in the fire safety of the building, but with the additional condition that the owner submit a full Development and Building Permit application "as appropriate for the intended use of the building" (ie. artist studios) by August 23. This was not in any way a negotiated settlement, but rather an ultimatum unilaterally imposed by the City.

Of course we understand that "the City" is not a monolithic entity but is comprised of a number of different departments with differing and sometimes conflicting mandates, and that these departments are likewise composed of diverse individuals with a wide range of preferences, priorities and opinions. We appreciate this because we have been dealing with multiple levels and departments of City staff since 2007. Throughout this time almost all of their verbal communications with us have been more-or-less positive and supportive of what we have achieved here, and what we are trying to achieve. This contrasts sharply with the written communications we have received, which seem designed to exaggerate the "imminent life safety issues" and cast the building owner and occupants as entirely negligent and non-compliant. For example, the original order to vacate states that "a recent inspection [ie. in January 2011] revealed that although the required permits have not been obtained and the necessary repairs have not been carried out, the building has now been re-occupied on all 3 floors ... as an artist studio." While not technically false, this is extremely disingenuous as we had been dealing with City officials for more than three years before this notice (please see the Work Order dated December 18, 2007 signed by then Chief Inspector Ed Nuefeld,) during which time we had completed all of the fire safety and other necessary repairs that had been cited, so it was by no means the case that our presence in the building was suddenly discovered, nor that we had failed to comply with any request made by the City throughout that time. It's extremely frustrating that despite our engagement with the City, this ongoing relationship was "disappeared" in this way.

What's also very frustrating is that despite the repeated assurances that the Order to Vacate is based entirely on "immediate life safety issues" with the building, it is the further, non-negotiable condition that the owner submit "full development plans" for the building that is the actual reason that we are being ordered to vacate. This is especially galling in light of the City's multi-year and multi-departmental "regulatory review process" for artist-run spaces, which we have been dutifully participating in since its inception, the recommendations for which were passed in Council last February. Of particular interest to us is the "interim program", intended to bridge the adoption of the recommendations and their actual implementation as changes to the appropriate City By-Laws, which "allows venues and staff to collaboratively address regulatory issues within a reasonable timeline without threat of enforcement action. This allows the venue to continue operation, unless imminent life safety issues exist (which would need to be addressed without delay)." The point is, we have spent the summer dealing with these issues, "without delay" to the limit of our abilities and finances, but these have only ever been a condition of the temporary extension (now expired) and are rendered entirely moot by the further condition of a full development application. Indeed the precise distinction between what presents an "imminent life safety issue" and a mere by-law infraction has never been made clear to us, nor is it, apparently, entirely clear to the inspections staff themselves, as the exact specifications we have been ordered to comply with have presented a moving target over the last several months. For example, the original Order to Vacate cited "smoke alarms ... covered with tape and plastic" [sic; among the dozen or so functioning smoke alarms only one was found in such a condition, a full four months earlier, which was immediately corrected at that time.] The interim agreement signed by the owner on June 20 states that "all smoke alarms [be] installed and operational", whereas the development and building permit required for this work states that they be "installed, interconnected and operational". It was only at the point at which the work was being inspected that we were informed that the smoke alarms needed to be hard-wired to the AC power in the building, and independently to each other, and not via the wirelessly interconnected battery powered alarms that we had installed. In fact, every single inspection has found new “hazardous conditions” not cited previously (see further examples below.) This also appears to violate both the spirit and the letter of the "interim program" which states as its proposed aims "to enable staff to approach by-law infractions in a coordinated manner in order to … ensure messaging is consistent and clear".

The current "final" Order to Cease Occupancy lists a number of "basic life safety issues still outstanding", which deserve a point-by-point response:

  • "Exit signs are still not working in some areas and missing in others." As far as we are aware there are exit signs installed in every location that we have been asked to put them, which have been tested and tagged within the last several months by a certified fire safety professional.
  • "Emergency lighting is still deficient in numerous areas throughout the building." Two locations on the main floor were identified as requiring additional emergency lighting; these have since been installed. We are unaware of any other location at which these are required.
  • "Doors in the fire separations between floors do not have self closing devices nor do they latch upon closing." This at least is partly true; however this is the first mention of this issue, it appears nowhere in any of our previous correspondence with the City nor in any previous discussions of "imminent life safety issues."
  • "Rear exit stairs (interior) - handrails and emergency lighting requirements have not been installed..." This staircase has emergency lighting, installed, tested, and tagged by a certified fire safety professional in June. The missing handrail was installed in July by a licensed contractor engaged by the owner, however at the most recent inspection it was determined that this railing was 3 feet too short; this has also been corrected.

This document further states that there is "no acceptable fire protection system." Assuming this refers to fire alarms and/or sprinkler systems, this is true but was not included in the list of "imminent life safety issues" cited by the City as a condition of our 60-day extension.

Again, the point is that this extension has now expired, and so it makes no difference if we go to the effort and expense to meet this or that "life safety" requirement or not, in the absence of a "complete Development and Building Permit application" submitted on behalf of the owner. It is our position that the issue of basic life safety and the issue of long-term development plans for the building are two separate issues, and they have been presented together in such a way as to create a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. The mass exodus of artists and musicians from the building that has already occurred (R.I.P. JC/DC) has not been on the basis of life safety issues, but rather in the knowledge of the City's long-term development requirements. The building owner has stated that he would not be submitting such an application; we the tenants, renting month-to month under imminent threat of eviction at the hands of the City and the owner for years, have had neither the opportunity, the expertise, nor the finances for such an undertaking, nor even the right to do so. The fact is, with this requirement, we are doomed either way. If the owner does not submit the application, the building will be vacated and we'll be on the street, but even if he does submit the application, we'll be on the street anyway; a complete renovation of the building will render it unusable for a considerable period, and upon completion the rental rates will be at least 2 to 3 times what we are paying now, and there is no chance that the current, low-income artists working here will be able to afford it.

So, just to sum up, despite recommendations passed by City Council that "cultural venues" be given notice and timelines for code violations "without enforcement action", the Building and Inspections Branch chose not to inform us of "numerous life safety issues" for over four months before serving us with an Order to Vacate based on these issues. While publicly, and personally, assuring that they want us to stay open, and that they are supportive of artist run-spaces and the "cultural values of the downtown eastside" and so on, and that it is merely the issue of imminent life safety which requires immediate enforcement action, this is contradicted by the additional requirement, buried amongst these life safety issues, for a complete development plan as a condition of continued occupancy.

The implications of a "full development plan" are significant. The very first requirement of this process is a Use Change application, to modify the building's current official use as "Office" space to "Studio". Changing the use of a building immediately invalidates any "grandfathered" variances to building codes & by-laws, and initiates a cascade of required upgrades consistent with current building codes. As the building has seen no major renovations for over 50 years, it's clear that this represents a broad, comprehensive and above all expensive renovation process, including but not limited to seismic re-inforcement, sprinkler systems, complete replacement of plumbing and wiring, and so on. The current designation as office seemed mysterious to us, as we know that the building has been artist studios since 1981, and prior to this period was in operation as a social club, and that at no time has it ever been office space. Going through the City's archives on the building it was discovered that in 1988 the building was purchased for the purpose of converting it into an office building, and a use change was approved for this purpose, but due to the same sort of building code upgrade requirements that we now face, none of the work which would have been required for this use was actually carried out. (The last communication from the frustrated developer contains the ominous statement "If any additional improvement is required, I may not be able to proceed. The upstairs two stories will be vacant for the next 30 years.") Of course, this has no direct bearing on the current situation, but it illustrates well enough the Kafka-like nature of our dilemma: the first hurdle we face is to change the official use of the building from something it has never been to something that it has always been. Bureaucracy trumps reality. How high is this hurdle really? Unfortunately no one knows. Despite verbal assurances from various City officials that the use change process will "probably not require elevators" etc, it is entirely unclear just what it will require, or how much it will cost. In any case the owner is convinced that committing to a development plan will cost at least $1 million or perhaps twice that. Again, it is not possible under this scenario that low-income artists of the neighborhood will be able to afford this newly-renovated "studio space", so there is probably no point in going through with the use change after all. Heads the developers win, tails the artists lose.

There is of course a concept, and a process, that is exerting an enormous influence on the situation in the downtown eastside, and in particular the 100 block of West Hastings - like a planet whose existence can be inferred from the distortions in the gravitational fields of nearby objects, it runs unstated beneath all of our discussions and communications with the City, steadily pulling in a constant direction: gentrification. And all the talk of "mixed use" and "social values" does not seem able to make headway against this tide. For many decades, this block of Hastings has been home to many different artist-run centres, studios, and grass-roots cultural organizations, as has the downtown eastside in general. Long ago suburban flight rendered the warehouses and commercial spaces redundant, and these were quickly colonized as cultural production space, making up a comprehensive ecosystem which has been an integral component of the neighborhood. But like many wild ecosystems around the world, it has been reduced and fragmented to the point of exhaustion: a scarce handful of buildings remain providing affordable studio space to the emerging (ie. poor) artists of the neighborhood, three of them are on this block, and all three are in immediate peril. The Asia Imports building at 151 W.Hastings (directly across the street from us) has been sold to a developer and the artists given 30 days to vacate; the Dynamo Studios building at 142 W.Hastings (3 doors down) has been sold to a developer and although they have not yet been evicted, there is “for lease” sign on the front and it seems likely that this will happen sooner rather than later. In this context, it is ironic that it is the City, not the owner, that is insisting that our building be developed - if he is unable or unwilling to do this, he has no choice at this point but to sell the building to someone who will.

"As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings." (Jane Jacobs, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", 1961.)

This is or should be Urban Planning 101 here - every aspect of the City's Cultural Facilities plan is pertinent to this building. Of the nine criteria for inclusion in the "artist studio regulatory review" process, any one of which would be sufficient, we qualify under six categories. The City's "great beginnings" facade restoration program even uses a picture of the Red Gate on its website to illustrate the program. And the City's 125th anniversary "Summer Live" event in Stanley Park featured a whole spectrum of artists and musicians that have either recorded, practiced, or performed here on a regular basis, including Neko Case and the New Pornographers, Veda Hille, Sorcerers, Taal Mala, Michael Red, Third Eye Tribe, the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret, the eatART collective, and more. And this only scratches the surface - this building means many things to many people, but mainly it's a place that is fertile with new ideas. We have taken a disused old building and through our own efforts created one of the most well-used and well-loved grass-roots cultural facilities in the city, without a single penny of public funds.

And yet none of this matters. The essential character of the neighborhood is about to vanish before our eyes, to be replaced by what one can only speculate.

But it's not too late to save the Red Gate! We don't see this as a battle to be fought but rather as a puzzle to be solved. We believe there's a creative solution, and although we're not sure that we've found it yet, we have some ideas that are worth pursuing. Above all we need a reasonable amount of time in which to attempt to develop an appropriate plan for how to break the impasse that has led to our impending eviction. The biggest obstacles at the moment are a lack of commitment on the part of the owner, and a lack of concrete assurances on the part of the City that a multi-million dollar renovation will not immediately be required if we proceed with the Use Change process. We propose a one year moratorium on enforcement action on the part of the city, on mutual condition of a one year lease from the owner, to allow us to stabilize the situation on the basis of "basic life safety" and provide us with a minimal planning horizon. If at the end of this time we are unable to present a workable plan and timeline for the development of the building that is acceptable to all parties, we'll admit defeat and move on. We think this is a modest, reasonable, and achievable objective. And we feel that the alternative is simply unacceptable, as it means nothing less than the complete extinction of a once-vital ecosystem. To see this building boarded up and empty, despite all the efforts and good will of so many people, including many City staff members, would be a great tragedy, defeating and demoralizing not only for the occupants (and former occupants), but the aforementioned City staff members as well, and most importantly, the young artists and musicians of the downtown eastside, who will see it as confirmation that they are simply not welcome in No Fun City.

The Red Gate Collective
September 21, 2011

cultural wildlife refuge slated for clearcut

The Red Gate “cultural wildlife refuge” at 152-156 West Hastings has been an ad-hoc, unofficial, community driven cultural space for more than 30 years. For the last 5 years we’ve been caught between an owner who can't or won't spend any money on the building, and a city bureaucracy that wants him to “bring it up to code” (ie. gentrify) and we have been surviving throughout this period without lease, license or permits of any kind (including basic occupancy permits,) on the basis of the good will generated by our deep connections to the neighborhood and the creative community at large. Unfortunately our air bubble has been slowly evaporating and is threatening to disappear entirely.

On August 24 (yeah that was a few days ago) our extension expired, and the City has expressed its intention to "board up the building" (although they have made no move to do so as yet) due to their requirement that the owner submit full development plans by that date. This demand was never realistic, as it would have required a team of professionals working full time for months to do properly. Note also that this is a bait-and-switch tactic, because all communications from the City have stated that fire safety is their main concern. All the requested fire code work has been completed and inspected, but this was merely to allow us to stay for the period of the extension, apparently. The owner has stated emphatically that he will simply sell the building rather than invest in it.

In the meantime, some folks have been moving out (so long JC/DC Studios), and the rest of us have been packing and organizing to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable exodus. The owner's legitimate concern is that the City's demands will cost him a lot of money, as a typical renovation of this nature may run into the millions of dollars. On the other hand, the City has also stated that they are interested in helping us in various ways; by relaxing certain building code requirements, providing for gradual improvements, and even offering grant money for renovations. Unfortunately we don't qualify for any of this without a commitment from the owner. If this is confusing you, don't feel bad. It's a typical dysfunctional relationship, full of mutual finger-pointing, and as it stands there's a good chance that both the city and the owner will be able to blame each other for things not working out here.

All the same, before we go we intend to make one last attempt to bring all parties together, to find a workable solution to save the building. We've been facing immanent eviction at the hands of either the city or the owner for years, we've never been in a position to seriously pursue funding agencies or potential partners or investors, instead concentrating on what we do here. We know what this building is for, how it should be used and by whom: as cultural space self-organized by and for the creative underclass of the downtown eastside and the city as a whole. We've proved that it can be done, by creating one of the most well-used and well-loved multi-use arts centres in town, all on our own dime, without outside funding of any kind. We're not intimidated by the "impossible" - we're artists!

And so here's our last ditch proposal. We are requesting from the owner a one-year lease, and a one-year extension from the city, to give us an opportunity to put a team together to develop this building to be what it is already, and to raise the money to pay for it. This will give the owner time to try to find a buyer for the building, and if at the end of the year we can't find a way to match his best offer, or make a deal with the buyer for a long-term lease, then we'll admit defeat and move on. We think this is a modest, reasonable, and achievable objective. And we feel that the alternative is simply unacceptable - if this place goes the rest of the affordable studio space in the neighborhood won't be far behind. So we've decided to make a stand, and maintain a 24-hour per day creative vigil at the Red gate until the situation is resolved. If not here, where? If not now, when?

Contact redgate@at.org or just drop by for more information

Emergency Red Gate Renoviction Meeting

Tue Aug 23 7PM - 154 West Hastings

ok kids looks like its showtime. our 60-day extension expires tomorrow, and although we've done all the fire safety work that we were told to do, a further stipulation of the extension was that the owner submit full development plans by august 23, which of course he has never had any intention of doing. So according to the city, the building will be shut down on the 24th. This is a sleight-of-hand trick on their part, as they have repeatedly stated that it simply about safety. The building is now safer, according to the city's own criteria, than it has been for decades, and yet they are shutting us down because the owner isn't gentrifying fast enough. We've told him we're holding back the rent unless he gives us at least a 1-year lease to try to come up with a workable plan to save the building, which he has categorically refused to do. And so the noose tightens.

we're still not sure what exactly will happen in what order, or who is going to make the first move. but it shouldn't be long in coming. regardless, it would be unbecoming to history to let this moment pass without marking the occasion in some appropriate way.

the point is, we know what this building is for, how it should be used and by whom - as cultural space self-organized by and for the creative underclass of the downtown eastside and the city as a whole. we've proved that it can be done, by creating one of the most well-used and well-loved multi-use arts centres in town, all on our own dime, without lease, licence, or outside funding of any kind and yet, despite years of lip service paid to "preserving the cultural values" of the neighborhood, No Fun City is back and its baaad.

So: please pass this along - anyone who wants to help us make some sort of last statement/stand, or otherwise is interested in the situation should attend. If this place goes, the rest of the affordable studio space in the DTES won't be far behind...

Update July 2011

Red Gate granted 60-day extension by City of Vancouver, situation still precarious.

Thanks to a massive outpouring of outrage and support from our diverse user base, the Red Gate “Cultural Wildlife Refuge” at 152-156 West Hastings St. has been given a 60-day reprieve. But despite kind words of encouragement from the Mayor and other City officials, we’re still no closer to an agreement with the building’s owner on long-term occupancy. Without this we don’t qualify for the City’s Cultural Infrastructure Grant, cited in the Mayor’s letter as well as the original Order to Vacate. We now have until the end of August to come up with a plan that all parties can agree to, in order to save the building as open, collaborative, and affordable studio space for the emerging artists and musicians of the Downtown Eastside. We feel that it is absolutely necessary that this building, and a few others like it, be recognized and protected as critical habitat in an endangered cultural ecosystem.

Many artists can’t afford their own studio – they’re too focused on their work to worry much about money. But a group of them can chip in on a space, hold the occasional opening to help with the rent, and this, historically, is what they’ve done. And in Vancouver, they’ve done it overwhelmingly in the Downtown Eastside. Even before the city’s commercial centre evacuated to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s, the Vancouver School of Art existed in various buildings in the neighborhood, and after this exodus the redundant warehouses provided a reservoir of primitive but functional studio and rehearsal space, with affordable rents paid to incurious, often absentee landlords. Losing a building here and there to development wasn’t such a problem at first, there was always another disused old building somewhere down the street and around the corner. Now what few remain are all under threat.

Sharing space amongst a group of artists makes sense economically but also socially and creatively – the great melting pot of poverty breeds diverse influences. The important thing about these kinds of DIY collaborative spaces is not the space as such but the ambiance, the vibe if you will, which isn’t something that can be turned on and off like a switch - it must be slowly cultured, collectively, it has to grow like a plant and is as easy to kill. The point is that the Red Gate is not just any building, it's an essential part of the cultural life of not just the neighbourhood but the city as a whole, with roots and branches heading in every direction. For example, this Saturday the City of Vancouver is celebrating it’s 125th anniversary in Stanley Park – from Red Gate regulars in the Lighta! Crew, the Dusty Flower Pot Cabaret, the eatART collective, to headliners Neko Case and The New Pornographers, who rehearse and record here, you can spend the entire day being entertained and amazed by artists associated in one way or another with this place. Kind of ironic that we’re facing eviction at the same time.

This is also a good illustration of “small world” network theory, in which we are all connected together much more closely than we seem to be on the surface, due to the influence of relatively rare but highly connected individuals (super-nodes) who bridge together distant parts of the network. This is very powerful but it contains a downside - if these nodes are lost the network breaks apart. This is the situation with the downtown arts community - its overall health is related to its level of inter-connectedness, which is dependent on there being places where these connections can be made. When there were many vacant warehouses and storefronts, the network was self-healing and as nodes were lost new ones would appear. Now that we're down to the last few remnants losing even one more could have a crippling effect on the ability of the network to recover.

In order for there to be an art and music scene (in the sense of new, original work that is indelibly in and of this place) there needs to be places for it to be created. These don't just happen, they are always a labour of love, and they take time to mature - if we lose this place the occupants of the building will scatter in the wind, and it will take another enormous effort of will and patience to rebuild somewhere else.

When we started renting here seven years ago, on a month-to-month basis, it was understood that we could have the building sold from under us at any moment. It was only after the City Inspectors discovered us a few years later that we became aware that it was technically condemned and, on paper, vacant. We knew that the plumbing and the wiring were old and would one day need to be replaced, and that at some point a lot of money would need to be raised. More recently we’ve learned from the City Archives that the building has been the subject of numerous failed proposals for redevelopment going back many decades. Nobody has been able to figure out what to do with the building, except the artists. We know what to do: make use of the time and space to grow a culture that reflects our values, goals, dreams, and desires. Admittedly this doesn’t often translate directly into cash, but these are the roots and soil without which the flowers and fruits of culture would be impossible. The standard model of gentrification is indifferent to these values and incompatible with these priorities. It doesn’t even seem possible to respond to forces that present themselves as done deals, as natural and inevitable as the tides and seasons. But even tides and seasons turn.

The City has expressed interest in helping us stay in the building – the landlord is afraid that committing to us would be committing to an enormous debt. So we, the broke artists of the DTES, need to figure out how to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars that needs to be invested in order to break the deadlock. To this end, we're working towards a "culturepreneurial model" for the twin storefronts, a number of different small businesses and co-ops providing a range of complementary services (AV facilities, coffee/juice bar, bike shop, print shop etc.) , all related together culturally, representing and reflecting the actual community that we've built up over the last few years - a DIY cultural centre. We’re conducting a membership drive to try to turn our swarm of supporters into active members, so if you ever thought you wanted to get involved down here, now would be a good time.

According to our agreement with the City, we are only allowed to have 60 people in the entire building at any one time, and more than this would require a public assembly licence which is months away at best. As this does not preclude small shows we’re planning a Red Gate Live series of internet transmissions for your vicarious enjoyment, stay tuned. We’re also doing a series of fundraisers at other locations, a sort of Red Gate Summer Tour. Next show is at the Waldorf Hotel on Thursday July 14th, featuring Calamalka, White Umbrella, Tarran the Tailor, Nam Shub, Michael Red, Taal Mala, Take 5 and more.

We are aware that what we want to do here may be impossible. But we’re heartened by the fact that what we've done already wasn't really possible either, so we’re inclined to keep trying to find a creative solution. After all, as artists it's our job to make dreams into realities and the seemingly impossible seem self-evident.

Response to the City

This is a response to a letter of support sent on June 3rd to the Chief Building Official Will Johnston and Cc'd to the Mayor and Council, and to Mr. Johnston's reply to this letter. It's also a point-by-point response to the City's Order to Vacate dated May 24. No official announcements just yet but progress is being made.

Re: Don't kill one of Vancouver's last independent cultural spaces
From: Jim Carrico
Date: June 5, 2011 11:43:00 PM PDT
To: Will Johnston
Cc: Rebecca Apostoli, Gregor Robertson, Suzanne Anton, David Cadman, George Chow, Heather Deal, Kerry Jang, Raymond Louie, Geoff Meggs , Andrea Reimer, Tim Stevenson, Ellen Woodsworth, Andrea Henning, Jacqueline Gijssen, Diana Leung, Alliance for the Arts, Richard Newirth, Brent Toderian, Brenda Prosken, Rick Cheung, Kevin Quinlan, Irwin Oostindie • W2, Hazen Sise

Thank you Rebecca for taking the time to show your concern, and thank you Will for your prompt response. To the other recipients of this letter, I'd like to try to clarify the situation from the point of view of the artists and musicians who rely on this facility. I realize that this must be coming out of nowhere for most of you, so hopefully this will provide some useful background.

First, the fire safety issues.

I think everyone agrees that first and foremost the building needs to be safe to occupy. There is no argument about this, we're simply asking for the opportunity to deal with these issues. The reports of "serious life and safety concerns" are based on an inspection by Mike Collister on January 17 of this year. At the time of his visit, he told us to expect a major, official inspection within 2 weeks, but no such inspection took place, nor did we hear anything about the results of his tour of the building. If the points listed in the Order to Vacate were made known to us at that time, there is little doubt that most if not all of these issues could have been dealt with by now, in fact some of them were dealt with in January. Instead these "unsafe and hazardous conditions" were not brought to our attention for over four months. The Order to Vacate is phrased in such a way to make it appear that we have made no effort to bring the building into compliance, but in fact we have been engaged in this process, with multiple levels and departments of City staff since 2007. In particular, the assertion that "the necessary repairs have not been carried out" ignores the fact that a series of work orders received by us during the period of 2007-2009 were completed to the satisfaction of the late Ed Neufeld, then Manager of the Building Inspections Branch, including electrical and fire-and-safety issues. In particular, a number of issues related to the integrity of the brickwork on the south end of the building were completed to the satisfaction of the consulting Engineer (W.A. Marsh) in the fall of 2009. Unfortunately Mr. Neufeld passed away before all of the paper work could be completed, and his replacement informed us, in our first meeting in January 2010, that we would be subject to a thorough re-inspection. But this inspection was not carried out, and we have not received a single work order or specific request from the City since that time.

I'll attempt to respond to the items listed on the Order to Vacate one at a time:

  1. "The building has no fire alarm or sprinkler system." This is true but from our point of view a new requirement. At no time during our previous working relationship with City officials was this referred to. It's also unclear whether this means we need to have *either* or *both* of these, so further clarification is requested on this point.
  2. "The exit signage and emergency lighting is missing or in a state of disrepair" There are numerous properly functioning exit signs throughout the building, as well as properly functioning emergency lighting on the third floor and second floor landings, the exception being a disused staircase leading from the 3rd to the 2nd floor, which is brought up in a separate bullet point (#7 below.)
  3. "The fire separation between floors is damaged and large pieces of lathe and plaster and/or drywall are missing in numerous locations." This is the result of previous water damage, and is as far as I am aware restricted to two small areas (<10 sq. ft) directly beneath the 2nd and 3rd floor washrooms. We've obtained an estimate from a contractor stating that this work could be done for approx. $1500 and intend to move forward on these repairs as soon as possible. Once again this defect was not mentioned on any previous work order or inspection report.
  4. "The smoke alarms have been covered with tape and plastic bags." At the time of Mike Collister's visit in January, it was pointed out that one of the smoke alarms on the 3rd floor had been taped over with a plastic bag. There are two other smoke alarms within 15 feet of this one on either side of it, which had not been covered, nor were any of the many other smoke alarms throughout the building found to be in this condition. This seems misleadingly phrased to suggest that all of the smoke alarms in the building had been disabled, and leaving this implication aside, is in any case technically incorrect, ie. "smoke alarms" plural. Deliberately defeating the purpose of safety equipment is obviously idiotic, and although we were unable to determine exactly who the idiot was, the tape and plastic were removed almost immediately, back in January.
  5. "The washrooms are either damaged or non-functional." There is a damaged washroom on the second floor, although it is in fact functional. There are functioning washrooms throughout the building.
  6. "The rear exterior exit stair leading from the 2nd floor has been replaced without permit or approval and does not comply with the Building By-law...." This was the work of a contractor (Laszlo Balogh) engaged by the owner to undertake the repairs to the rear facade, referred to above, based on a work order signed by Ed Neufeld dated Dec. 18 2007 and properly permitted and approved in 2009. Replacement of the staircase was not part of this work order; however the contractor found the staircase to be in a state of disrepair and removed it prior to completion of the facade work. Unfortunately, as a recent immigrant from Hungary, the contractor was mistakenly under the impression that as he was merely replacing an existing staircase and that no further permits were required, nor apparently was he at all well-versed in BC Building Codes. We're in the process of obtaining estimates for the retro-fit or replacement of this staircase. Defects aside, it's significantly safer than what it replaced.
  7. "The rear interior exit stair from the 3rd floor to the 2nd floor is in disrepair and does not comply with Building By-law. There is no ambient lighting, no emergency lighting, the handrail is missing on one side, and there are miscellaneous materials and construction debris impeding egress." This is a disused and admittedly neglected staircase. All debris impeding access has long since been removed, and the other issues (missing handrail, emergency lighting) will be dealt with over the next several days. Again, at no time in the past have these requirements been made known to us.

We're not disputing in any way the seriousness of these issues, but rather the precipitous nature of the City's actions. For example, it's unclear why the immediate safety issues were not shared with us at an earlier date. We also find it somewhat disingenuous of the City to omit any mention of "necessary repairs" that have been carried out at their behest. It has been stated that Ed Neufeld was not required to be as lenient on us as he seems to have been, nor are his successors required to follow this policy. This is not in dispute. But neither can anyone pretend that it didn't happen, or that we have not in fact been engaged in good faith with City Officials to try to bring the building into compliance. We do however require some guidance and direction in bringing this about, and a reasonable and realistic timeline.

The final paragraph of the Order to Vacate provides a reference to the City's Cultural Infrastructure Grant, with the suggestion that this may assist us in achieving compliance. There are other City grants that are known to us (eg. up to $50,000 from the "Great Beginnings" facade restoration program) and no doubt there are others of which we are as yet unaware, both public and private. The greatest obstacle for us has for many years been the refusal of the building owner to give us any sort of lease on the premises, (we have been paying month-to-month from the beginning,) and therefore we have not up to now been qualified to even apply for any of this money. But if there is any "silver lining" in the situation this is it, because it is at last forcing the owner to the table with us.

Without dragging this response on interminably, I feel as though I should say something about myself. I've been involved in "grass-roots culture" in the Downtown Eastside for 30 years, as a director of the Unit/Pitt Society and co-editor of Issue Magazine in the 1980s, and a partner in the Miller Block recording studio in the 1990s, and more recently as one of the founding members of the W2 coalition. I've lived and worked and raised a family down here, and I love this neighbourhood. I've been involved in meetings and discussions with various City Cultural Planners in recent months and years, and we've gone over possible strategies, funding models and so on. On friday I attended a very productive meeting with Irwin Oostindie and Hazen Sise of W2 as well as the building owner, and it was agreed in principle that W2 will apply for grants on the Red Gate's behalf, and provide administrative support and expertise, beginning with a feasibility study to be conducted over the next 2 weeks. In return, the owner has agreed to provide our organization with a long term lease on the building for the purposes of formalizing and legitimizing the fully-functioning multi-purpose artist-run centre that we've already created here. We're committed to finding a solution that all parties can be comfortable with, starting with applying for the necessary permits and conducting the required repairs, and fully engaging with City staff in the planning process. We need to be given a chance to do this; we've made enormous progress in the last 10 days, but 30 days is an unreasonable timeline. I'm sure that in the end we all want the same thing, which is to bring this neighbourhood back to life, and to ensure that there are safe places for the brilliant youth to invent the future.

If anyone would like to discuss any of these issues with us, please contact us at redgate@at.org

Letter from the Mayor

(this is a letter that was sent from the Mayor's office to everyone who expressed their concerns about the Red Gate)

Thanks for writing about the Red Gate. I want to clarify some misinformation that is out there. The City's issue is not with the Red Gate, it's with the building owner. There are serious safety concerns with the building that the owner has not addressed, despite several meetings with city staff.

An inspection in January found a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure a base level of safety. Key concerns centered on the lack of fire detection and protection systems (alarms and sprinklers), fire extinguishers, exit signage, emergency lighting and the building’s exit stairs.

These are simple - but serious - things that need to be fixed. City staff from our Cultural Services and Downtown Eastside Planning Group as well as the Building Inspection Department have met with the owner several times to discuss these issues, as recently as last week.

If the building owner puts forward an upgrade plan, and demonstrates a commitment to starting it, the City will reconsider the order to vacate. To date, no such plan has been given to the City - despite several attempts by the City to ask for one over the past six months.

What is most frustrating is that the City actually provides money to support building owners and arts groups in these situations. There are programs and grants for groups that operate in the DTES. We have cultural infrastructure grants, which can be spent on upgrades and renovations.

We want the Red Gate to stay open. I've said to staff I want to see it stay open. But if the building owner refuses to make basic safety renovations, the City has no choice but to close it.

Thanks for taking the time to write.


Mayor Gregor Robertson


We need your help! Please drop by to sign the petition, or pick up petition forms for distribution. The more support we get, the better chance we have of bringing the City back to the table. You can download a PDF of the petition form here. Online version will be available shortly...

May 30, 2011

For Immediate Release

After seven years in operation as one of the most well-used and well-loved arts centers in the Downtown Eastside, the “Red Gate” at 152-156 West Hastings St. has been given a 30-day notice to vacate by the City of Vancouver Building Inspections Branch. Despite dealing with various levels and departments of City officials since 2007, and despite having complied with all of the work orders that have been presented to us, we are faced with an ultimatum that is either ignorant of or is indifferent to this ongoing relationship and the good faith that we have shown to the City throughout this time.

The Red Gate is unique in the neighborhood, and the city, in both its longevity as a 100% self-funded and self-organized multi-purpose cultural facility, and in the depth and breadth of participation, collaboration, and support from a large user base that represents the broadest possible cross-section of amateur and professional artists, musicians, film-makers and photographers. Its three floors and 15,000 square feet accommodate the JC/DC recording studio, home of the New Pornographers, Destroyer, the Rodney Graham Band, etc, as well as providing affordable studio space for dozens of visual artists, along with rehearsal and performance space, art gallery, flexible production facilities for large-format works, film and video production, movie screenings, community meeting space and more. Cost to the public: zero dollars. From the beginning we’ve run ourselves on a voluntary, collective, consensus basis with no outside funding or support of any kind, public or private.

Our last communication with any city representative was in January of this year, when an informal “surprise inspection” was conducted, at which time we were told to expect a notice of a major, formal inspection. Instead, after hearing nothing at all for four months, we have been presented with an unrealistic 4-week deadline to vacate the building, without ever being given an opportunity to achieve compliance, or indeed being given a specific outline of what this would require. By enforcing a 13-year old order to vacate, which one might have thought would have been superceded by our generally positive and productive relationship with City officials over the last four years, and by mis-representing or ignoring this relationship entirely in their correspondence with us, we feel that the City has been unfair not only to us but to the entire community.

What we are trying to achieve here is nothing less than the Renaissance of Hastings Street, and of the Downtown Eastside, from within, by tapping into the incredible energy, talent, creativity, and good will that has always existed in the cracks and crevices of the neighborhood. This is where the young and boundary-pushing artists and musicians concentrate, historically and currently, because it’s affordable, but also because it’s interesting. As a melting pot and meeting place, the DTES is not really comparable to anywhere else. As both the oldest and the poorest district, the most diverse ideas and influences come into contact with one another. With recent development intiatives, this diversity will continue to increase, but only if the new is willing to co-exist with the old. The Red Gate is a microcosm of the neighborhood, one of the last remaining of what was once an entire ecosystem of studios and DIY art spaces. We’ve proven that a group of motivated artists can take over a building that has been abandoned and neglected and turn it into something amazing, and we feel that this is a positive model of development, appropriate to the neighborhood, and that the City should be trying to help us rather than trying to shut us down. For more information contact redgate@at.org.


A Cultural Wildlife Refuge in the Downtown Eastside


In the shadow of the Woodwards Towers, signature condo-ziggurats of 2010-opolis, behind a neglected Edwardian facade, lies a remnant of a cultural ecosystem which once spread throughout the neighborhood in an unplanned archipelago of ad hoc art spaces that appeared and disappeared with the seasons.

Once merely a node among many in this network, the former Trocadero Building at 152 West Hastings now stands as an isolated remnant of critically endangered habitat, threatened with extinction under the relentless pressures of redevelopment and gentrification. A hub of independent culture for the last 30 years, under many names and guises (Pop, The Red Dot, Bugland, @ Gallery etc, or more often simply 152,) the building is currently occupied by several dozen visual artists and musicians, including practice, performance, and exhibition space, as well as the famous JC/DC studios, home of the New Pornographers, Destroyer, Nardwuar and other national icons. Lately an effort to open the twin storefronts up to public exhibitions and special events has been frustrated by a combination of bureaucratic intolerance, landlord intransigence, and contractor incompetence. "Condemned" but continuously occupied in its current incarnation as the "Red Gate" for six years, with the knowledge and even occasional encouragement of various city departments, but caught in a catch-22 in which the money to repair the building can't be raised because getting a business licence requires that the building first be repaired. The besieged artists, well aware of the forces marshalling against them, are now taking the initiative by opening the Downtown Eastside's newest/oldest "not strictly legal" art gallery, in order to expose to the public some of their projects and activities, and through a process of "controlled tourism" create an appreciation in the larger community of the building's irreplaceable value as a "cultural breeding ground."

Become a Member!

The Red Gate is now offering membership! Members will get special mailouts, as well as discounts at all of our shows, plus you can help us keep this place going, for only $20 a year!