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Downtown Vancouver at sunrise

New City-owned artists' space opens in downtown Vancouver

I saw the site as an opportunity to pay tribute to the different daily activities and routines that unfold in this neighbourhood: work, domestic lives, entertainment, construction and recreation, rush hour traffic flows.

Germaine Koh, artist

December 6 2019 –

Today, the contemporary art community gathered to mark the opening of Howe Street Studios, a City-owned 10,800 square foot artist production facility, located at 1265 Howe Street. 221A, a Vancouver non-profit cultural organization, will operate Howe Street Studios as a shared artist production facility for over 20 artists. 

“Securing vibrant, affordable and accessible arts and cultural spaces is a key focus for Culture|Shift, the City’s new 10-year culture plan,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “Artists are struggling to find secure production space in Vancouver and we are thrilled to provide a new safe, sustainable, and affordable studio space for the arts community.” 

The new cultural space will be used predominantly for visual arts production. Designed by Merrick Architecture, it includes two kiln compatible studios, and two sound-isolated studios designated for audio practices. 

“221A’s vision for the facility is to support the re-emergence of viable working spaces for artists within Vancouver’s downtown core, with a focus on artists who have traditionally been disadvantaged from access to public resources,” said Brian McBay, Director of 221A. “Earlier in the season, 221A convened a Peer Assessment Committee to assess applicants on the basis of economic need, material suitability, as well as quality and contribution of the tenants’ artistic work in the field and the city.” 

This new facility was developed and provided to the City as an in-kind Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) by Howe Street Developments Limited Partnership, as part of a mixed use development (4 MB) that includes a 41-storey residential building. CACs play an important role in the delivery of public amenities and infrastructure, such as affordable housing, childcare, parks, cultural facilities, and community facilities, accommodating growth while ensuring the city’s livability.

“Howe Street Developments is proud to provide the City of Vancouver with this much needed artist studio space as part of our Tate Downtown project,” said Tracy McRae, Vice President Development of Bonds Group of Companies. “We look forward to watching the local art community flourish in this rare and innovative studio production facility for years to come.”

Artists occupying the studios are in commercial sublease agreements for a 3-year rental term, with options to renew through the peer assessment process. In addition, 221A selected Malaspina Printmakers Society as a key subtenant, offering services to a membership base of local print-media artists. 

"Due to lack of space and poor conditions, an entire generation of artists in their thirties has reluctantly left Vancouver,” said Tiziana La Melia, Artist subtenant at Howe Street Studios.  City intervention into this problem is so necessary and has been necessary for a very long time. I desperately hope for the city that this is a sign of more to come and of newer models and infrastructures for artists to live and practice here."

“As a recent graduate, having a studio in a place like 1265 Howe Street, is all about the affordability of space” said Aileen Bahmanipour, Artist subtenant at Howe Street Studios. “Affordability not only in terms of the rent, but also what can I afford to the artists in that space, what can they afford me as an artist, and what can we afford to our culture and our city?”

Artwork by Germaine Koh

An artwork by Germaine Koh has been commissioned for the interior façade of Howe Street Studios, in fulfillment of the City’s Private Sector Public Art requirement. Set Pieces is a series of theatrical curtains and scrims made of materials typical to the neighbourhood: domestic curtains, office blinds, construction mesh, fishing nets, and a green screen backdrop. The various layers are mechanically raised and lowered in a changing interactive display, animating the daily activities at Howe Street Studios, visible from inside and out.

The innermost two layers of the artwork, a projection screen and green screen, can be used by the artist tenants for creating or presenting work. Koh (who is currently Artist-in-Residence with the City’s Engineering Services) also created an interactive light piece at the commercial entrance of the adjacent building, entitled Life Under the Marquee.  

“This new studio building is so important to the art community that I knew I wanted my public artwork to complement the studio activity rather than overshadow it,” said Germaine Koh, artist. “I saw the site as an opportunity to pay tribute to the different daily activities and routines that unfold in this neighbourhood: work, domestic lives, entertainment, construction and recreation, rush hour traffic flows. I hope the changing play of materials and colour in this piece suggest that there's always something new unfolding in the studio spaces beyond.” 

View photos of Howe Street Studios and Set Pieces

Key priority

The protection and creation of arts and cultural spaces, such as Howe Street Studios, is a key priority in the Making Space for Arts and Culture report (30 MB), which was approved by Council in September, as part of Culture|Shift: Blanketing the City in Arts and Culture. Vancouver’s new culture plan recommends that the City demonstrate its long-term commitment to address acute space challenges through new approaches including:

  • Setting Vancouver’s first cultural infrastructure targets with an overall goal of 800,000 square feet of affordable, preserved, renewed, expanded, or new City-owned, non-profit, and private space over the next ten years. This includes affordable artist housing, additional new and repurposed spaces, policies and incentives to work towards no net loss of cultural space, and prioritizing development of local and urban Indigenous cultural spaces. Identified priorities include shared production space such as artist studios, like Howe Street Studios.
  • Launching an Affordable Cultural Spaces grant stream to support non-profits providing subsidized affordable space for artists and cultural organizations 
  • Establishing a Vancouver Cultural Spaces Fund to support large scale community-led projects including non-profit ownership. The proposed fund will launch with $4.8 million with a future funding goal of $10 million over the next three years.
  • Exploring ways to support the development of a community created and led Cultural Land Trust, including: seed funding and new ways to partner and share ownership with the cultural community on affordable spaces secured through development.

Culture|Shift

Culture|Shift is a 10-year culture plan that addresses critical challenges and opportunities and will position the City of Vancouver as a global leader in cultural planning that addresses the most pressing issues of our times. 

The plan incorporates three related yet distinct plans to increase and align support for arts and culture:

Howe Street Studios is the first of several new City-owned arts spaces set to open Vancouver over the coming year. Other planned projects include a ~20,000 square foot multi-purpose arts and culture production and presentation hub at 825 Pacific, 30 units of social housing for artists with 4,000 square feet of production space at Main and 2nd that will be operated by Community Land Trust in partnership with BC Artscape, and a ~20,000 square foot purpose-built music presentation centre secured at the Plaza of Nations.