About a month ago, I went on a drunken rant at a house party with a few of my Tenants Union comrades. I loudly proclaimed that I am sick of watching my friends scramble to find an affordable place to live every time a developer and our weasel mayor conspire to build more $3,700 a month “affordable housing units” at their address. For the love of god, I lamented, take any commercial building you want. I know something must be sacrificed to provide overpriced housing for all the established Gen-Xers with their better-late-than-never nuclear families. So let it be the bespoke furniture stores and the vegan butcher shops who get the bulldozer. Frankly, I’ll sleep peacefully knowing that nut pate is off the reclaimed wood table. I found out shortly after my “mow down all the small businesses” posturing that Little Mountain Gallery is up for redevelopment.
My heart sank. It’s true that nobody lives at LMG, but for improvisers and comedians, it is home. I’m one of the hundred or so local amateur comics who frequent Vancouver’s open mics. What most of us are doing is only art on a technicality, but LMG is different. There, improvisers, stand-ups and everyone in-between have the freedom to get weird. A couple of months ago a friend of mine chugged a 4L of milk and cried on stage for 6 minutes to roars of laughter. The regulars pack the house every show because there’s a huge market for LMG Comedy department’s brand of organic, alt-comedy. I’m doubtful any of this could exist anywhere else. All you have to do to understand how vital LMG is to the comedy scene is scroll through the Just For Laughs NorthWest indie show line up.
Bumpin’ art spaces, gentrification, and demovictions are a vicious circle. Art and gentrification seem to evolve together, a lot like how neanderthals slowly domesticated wolves that ate their leftover mammoth carcasses. Artists look for a cheap space to work out of, and the bespoke furniture stores and vegan butcher shops follow over time. Unfortunately, instead of getting puppies out of this symbiotic relationship, the low-income senior who lives above your art studio gets an eviction notice. Mount Pleasant has been going through this process since the 1990s. True to form, LMG’s building at 195 East 26th Avenue, opened in 1930 as an automotive garage and became an arts venue in 2001. Now only 19 years later it’s on the chopping block. The rapid cannibalization of Mount Pleasant’s soul is a good indicator it is entering late-stage cool-neighbourhoodism. This isn’t happening because art is bad, or because neighbourhoods develop a unique culture. It’s happening because housing is a commodity.
Many of LMG’s regulars and performers live nearby and they are also being displaced to build condos. In fact, Ross Dauk of “Jokes Please” has a great bit about his experience with the housing crisis and it kills because we’ve all been there. Only the condo builders are happy with this arrangement. Those Gen Xers with the better-late-than-never-nuclear-families who’ve replaced the creatives and consumers are getting a rough deal too. They have to watch the arts and culture which drew them to buy a home there get chiselled away to make more condos. The snake eats its own tail. The snake in this analogy is Kennedy Stewart. After all, he toasted his time in a rock band as proof he’d be an advocate of the arts. I know this because I volunteered on his campaign.
Vancouver’s city council promised us they would “make space for arts and culture” just as they promised they would tackle the affordability crisis. Instead of doing anything productive, on either front, they mandated developers to install a piece of public art for every building over 10,000 Square feet. So now we have an infamous 4.8 million dollar spinning bridge chandelier instead of the below-market rentals we desperately need. The city promised to offer grants to help art spaces survive the affordability crisis then slapped Red Gate with a $9,000 property tax increase. Stop buying into their bullshit and lining up to lick Ian Gillepsie’s boots. They only feign support for the arts as a way to exonerate themselves of the damage they’re doing to our communities.
As this council enters the second half of its mandate, pay close attention to what is happening at City Hall. Pay attention and speak out. But you can’t just write a play about the fall of Vancouver. Artists more than anyone should know social commentary doesn’t put roofs over heads, you have to do something more. If you see a redevelopment announcement show up near your black box theatre, you need to show up to support the affected tenants. While Little Mountain Gallery’s future is uncertain, what isn’t is the vicious cycle of gentrification in Vancouver. If housing is a commodity, you will always become a victim of your own success, so get radical and maybe we can turn this whole “No Fun (tent) City” thing around.
As I was powering through my final edit of this article, merely hours before the deadline, I was served a “landlord use” eviction notice. So, if anyone needs a roommate for April first my budget is 1000 plus utilities, pet-friendly please.