Studio space is an issue for many creatives in Vancouver because it mirrors the lack of affordable housing as well as the parallel class issues that exist here, too.
I posted a space availability notice on behalf of the Beaumont a while ago and was surprised by a few negative comments. “Horribly expensive,” one said. “Dark and small,” said another. A fellow tenant and I read these and we were both surprised. Have these people not tried to find a place to *live*, never mind work, if you’re self-employed in Vancouver?
I’m lucky to have found The Beaumont. I’ve been here eight years. Here is why it works for me.
First, Location. Say it thrice: location, location, location. The Beaumont is prime location real estate. You can see the mountains and downtown. You’re right by the Olympic Village skytrain station, so really just minutes from anywhere. You can walk to the water in minutes, too. It is two blocks from Cambie Street (Save-On Foods, restaurants, Home Depot, Canadian Tire) and a short bridge hop to downtown. Even better: Big Rock Urban Brewery and Restaurant is A BLOCK AWAY and they are amazing. City Hall is just up the street, too, so if you want to complain about bike lanes or finding studio space in Vancouver, the location is convenient for protesting.
I’ve had studios in other locations and an established infrastructure is a blessing at my age, not to mention the nearby liquor store.
From a business owners’ perspective, you need walk-by traffic. The Beaumont gets traffic from the Olympic Village and has tons of development happening on either side. If you are running a public-facing business – and all artists are – then you know that location matters. Most days, you sell stuff purely on coincidence. How do you quantify coincidence? Location.
I work late probably more than I should. As a female and a mother, I appreciate that my studio is just down the street from the big police station on Cambie and 5th so there are police cruisers passing by all the time. I also appreciate that there’s a daycare across the street and real residents in real houses, too. These are visual signifiers that this is a safe neighbourhood and I’m not alone. The building is alarmed. There are video cameras in the storefront. Even the local binners keep an eye on things. This is not an isolated industrial area; it’s more like an ecosystem.
And by security, I mean long-term. I’d sooner roll my eyes all the way to another province than read another article on Vancouver real estate prices and how rampaging the development has become. The Executive Director, Jude Kusnierz, negotiated a ten year lease with the owner. Of course, anything could happen in ten years – earthquakes, flooding, or even crazier real estate increases, for example – but having a ten year lease means that you can invest effort and money in a space. You feel more secure because you can work and not be distracted by constant threats of eviction.
When I first shared the available studio space notice in an artists’ group, someone complained that the spaces are “dark and small”. This is simply not true. I can see the mountains from my chair. There is light everywhere because there are windows everywhere. And small? Vancouver is trying to fit families of four into microcondos so I suspect “small” is relative to unmet expectations.
The Beaumont is actually two buildings, B1 and B2. B1 has a storefront with cool stuff like art-packaged artisanal chocolate bars to living gardens you hang on your wall. There’s big bright gallery, too, and B2 has an even bigger multipurpose space with a beautiful painted floor and a large bar. Both buildings host events ranging from small poetry readings to art classes, dance practices, comedy showcases, music concerts, and more. Best part is you get all these appreciative audiences walking through. With all the windows, there are some days when you feel like a painting monkey in a zoo but I would never complain because I’ve had isolated studios surrounded by dense windowless soundproof cement walls, too. Those were lonely times and being an artist is already a lonely job.
The other thing about having a ten year lease is that you can invest in your own space. Jude is pretty open to people who want to improve the space. Need a sink? A ventilation system? A loft? Kiln power? More light? This isn’t a place where you’re forbidden to make changes.
My baseline of community means that people *IRL* (IN REAL LIFE) see familiar faces every day and we could go up to any one of those faces and get help IRL – whether it’s building a barn or borrowing a lamp – because there’s a well-established fellowship. It is important to note that this fellowship is not only because of the shared space and similar careers but also despite differences. Most of us don’t even have all that much in common but we all change the toilet paper and take out the garbage and tidy up the premises and comfort the sobbing. If you’re going to have a career in the arts, you need to know that happens frequently.
Most of us readily share what is needed even if it’s only opinion or sympathy but it’s more often a chair or a space heater. Almost all of my studio furniture came from people in the building giving stuff away. We appreciate and promote each others’ efforts. We enjoy each other’s noise, like the Glee Club practices or Flamenco class tapping downstairs (I especially love that). It may not be for everyone, but for me, noise is welcome.
Community means that we bring our pets and children here. It’s safe, they’re recognized, there’s an unspoken code of collective responsibility.
6. Lastly, Jude.
Jude is pretty concerned about community. She started the Beaumont after a fire burned down her old studio years ago and everyone rushed outside and realized that no one knew each other. This speaks to safety and security, as well. So when she set up Beaumont 1, she put in windows everywhere so everyone could see each other and know, on sight, how they were doing. IRL.
If you spend any time with Jude, you’ll see how her phone goes off every minute. She juggles more than the average executive, from City Hall petitions to Hydro issues to tenants wondering where the toilet paper is to turnover and taxes and how to organize an extended group medical plan for those that need it. Common needs, ultimately, though most of us just deal with toilet paper.
I’ve seen a lot of houses stand empty in my own neighborhood and a few more surrounded by those orange fences and development notices. Sometimes, I feel safer and more secure at the Beaumont than the neighborhood where I live. It’s difficult to find affordable space and this would be true even if I weren’t talking about Vancouver but here at the Beaumont I have seen a lot of small and heroic acts over time that add up and make it worth staying in and fighting for. Home wasn’t built in day.