Red Gate Arts Society
The Red Gate Arts Society was founded in 2012, after a series of closures of community arts spaces left a large void in Vancouver's historically arts-friendly Downtown Eastside district, and a sense of urgency and crisis in the artists and musicians that had until then depended on cheap space in the fast-disappearing older buildings in the area. What had been an ad-hoc collection of individuals with a common cause in holding on to their existing spaces became a focused organization dedicated to establishing new ones, and in the process demonstrate a prototype of an independent, self-funded arts center. With a large and diverse community of supporters behind us, we raised enough money to secure a lease on a 7500 square foot industrial-zoned building at 855 East Hastings, in February of 2013.
The primary aim of the society is to provide affordable working space for artists, musicians, and creative individuals of all kinds, in a supportive and collaborative environment in which different skills and interests can be shared and new ideas can take form. The point is that if there is to be a cultural scene in Vancouver at all, there needs to be places where young and emerging artists can spend the time it takes to develop their skills and talents, overcome obstacles, and everything else that is required to realize their full potential. During this time, if they are as dedicated as they need to be, most are going to find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder, and priced out of the rapidly escalating vancouver rental market. By securing large, disused industrial spaces, and sharing them among a large number of people, rates per square foot can be minimized.
Our current premises provide approximately 60 artists and musicians with 3500 square feet in 10 lockable rooms for less than $1.50/sq.ft/month, in addition to an art gallery, darkroom and workshop facilities, a free store, and a large multi-purpose space for meetings, exhibitions, events, workshops, seminars, film/video production and screenings, photo shoots, theatre rehearsals, and other short-term projects. Because of our orientation as a community space, created by and for working artists and musicians, we have been able to provide hundreds of individuals and groups with opportunities for a broad range of cultural expression as well reasonable expectations of modest financial rewards for their efforts. By providing infrastructure and technical support for community members, and a profit-sharing economic model, we help channel crucial funding directly into our immediate community, with overall revenue growth approaching 30% per year.
Due to the unconventional, multi-disciplinary, and experimental nature of our programming and organizational model, we have worked closely with the City of Vancouver at all levels, assisting in both the planning and implementation of the City's Arts Event License Pilot Program, designed to allow temporary use of cultural spaces for public fundraising events, and recently approved as a permanent program by Council resolution. As cultural funding from governments has declined, these types of events have become an essential source of income for many cultural organizations, and we believe that the way forward is to further develop this model, to facilitate and encourage a greater resilience and self-reliance in the cultural sector.
Beyond the general difficulties faced by cultural groups everywhere, Vancouver presents special challenges due to increasing property values, which are rapidly outpacing the earning power of its inhabitants and reinforcing its status as one of the world's least affordable cities. Residential encroachment into former industrial districts is also reducing the supply of appropriate buildings, and the combined effect of these trends is to steadily erode the viability of the city's cultural ecosystem. This remains a crisis which will not be solved without a coordinated effort among the cultural community, civic authorities, and property owners, who all have a stake in ensuring the survival of this crucial component of a livable city.
Other cities faced with similar issues have begun to take pro-active steps to deal with them. For example, the Mayor of London has announced a rescue plan for the city's fast-disappearing grassroots music venues, stating that "if this decline continues it could have major implications for the long term future of a creative and cultural sector that feeds into the UK's £3.8 billion music industry." The report notes that such independent spaces are "highly entrepreneurial" but that "the creation of profit is not their primary objective"; that they are "run by passionate people who are experts in their field and highly productive (25% higher than the UK average)" and also "talent spotters and career nurturers, regularly programming new and unknown performers with no expectation of financial reward." The report concludes with a comprehensive and coordinated set of recommendations to solve this "crisis at the grassroots level" which is threatening to "decimate the talent supply-chain".
The Red Gate Arts Society is currently seeking a long-term or, if possible, permanent location, to continue to refine and extend our successful experiment in community-driven, self-funded cultural infrastructure. We see ourselves as piloting an economically viable model which can be adopted and customized by other groups, and that Vancouver needs and can support many more such spaces. For additional information or other enquiries please contact us at email@example.com.