Downtown Eastside DIY Cultural Centre

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Downtown Eastside DIY Cultural Centre

Vancouver, CanadaVancouver, Canada
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Preserving a vanishing cultural ecosystem; building and sustaining the germinal layer of culture, the soil from which the fruits and flowers of culture grow.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In the last few years Vancouver's aggressive real estate market has resulted in a catastrophic loss of affordable cultural space, ie. artist studios, recording and rehearsal space, etc. Much of this loss has occurred in the Downtown Eastside. The "Red Gate" operated 15,000 sq.ft. of affordable studio and rehearsal space at 152-156 W.Hastings from 2006-2011 before our building was sold for redevelopment last fall. Since then, another 24,000 sq.ft. of studio space (at 142 and 151 W.Hastings) has been lost on that block alone, for the same reason. Many young artists are leaving Vancouver for other cities with lower rents and more public support. The once vibrant cultural ecosystem of the downtown districts is now fragmented and critically endangered. We need to reverse this process.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We have been searching for a new location in or near the downtown eastside. Our mandate is to provide genuinely affordable, community-driven collaborative workspace for Vancouver's young and emerging artists, musicians, film-makers and theatre groups. Our central goal is to reclaim some of what has been lost to real-estate development and to reverse the process of vanishing cultural ecosystems. We think it's crucial that these spaces be self-supporting and not dependent on government grants or funding. We've recently applied to the City to lease one of their buildings on Industrial Ave. in collaboration with 2 organizations in the "hi-tech DIY" maker movement and have been raising funds in support of this proposal. (see ) We're confident that we can create a self-sufficient grassroots cultural center in that location (or another if our proposal is not accepted) but we will have initial costs related to building codes, permits and licenses in order to open.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Support for the Arts is usually seen in terms of space to perform and exhibit; we are addressing the need for affordable space in which emerging artists can spend the years required to get to that point. Spaces in which creative individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill-sets can meet, discuss, and collaborate. New ideas are often germinated in the unplanned encounters between otherwise unrelated concepts and practices. Our proposed facility will provide studio and rehearsal space for artists and musicians for $150/mo for 200 sq.ft., plus access to sound, lighting, and recording equipment, woodworking, machining, and electronics workshops, darkroom and printmaking capabilities, as well as a flexible space for short-term rentals for film/video/photography, theatrical rehearsals, seminars, meetings and community-building events. We've always been open to anyone who comes in the door with enthusiasm and a good idea, regardless of age, sex, cultural or socioeconomic background. Through our past activities, we have the support of a broad cross-section of Vancouver's cultural community (eg. over 900 signatures on our petition in support of our proposal to the City, see ) and we have had dozens of expressions of interest from people looking for affordable space in which to create and collaborate. We anticipate being full, with a waiting list, within weeks of re-opening. We hope above all to give young artists and innovators a reason to stay in Vancouver, and to enable them to continue to live and work in the city we love.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Other studios still exist in the downtown eastside and elsewhere but they are all subject to the same development pressures described above. Some of these are being run on a strictly for-profit basis, which tends to put them out of reach of low-income artists (eg. ACME Studios, Renegade Studios.) Others are run by well-established groups of artists and seldom have any openings available. The loss of studio space has been such that our 'peers and competitors' are fighting the same rear-guard action as ourselves. The cultural life of a city is one of 'increasing returns' in which the overall strength of the network/ecosystem adds to the success of each node within it. We intend to negotiate a long-term lease to provide tenure and stability, and to provide space on a non-profit basis

Founding Story

In this era of social, economic, and ecological deterioration we think what's needed more than anything else is new ideas. These are often difficult to recognize at first. Through many years of experience in the cultural trenches we've come to appreciate that open, mutually supportive, diversely stimulating environments are the soil in which new ideas germinate. It's easy to see in retrospect where an important concept originated, but impossible to guess which novel (and often seemingly 'crazy') idea will come to be understood as important. Culture is often placed somewhere down the 'hierarchy of needs', to be enjoyed or indulged only after our 'real work' is accomplished. We think culture is *the reason we do all the other stuff*. It is what give life a sense of meaning, hope and connection - in the case of the young people we associate with it is what makes the difference between enthusiasm, energy and optimism, and the bleak pessimism and despair which is all too common these days.
About You
Red Gate Arts Society
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Red Gate Arts Society

Organization Country

, BC, Vancouver

Country where this solution is creating social impact

, BC, Vancouver

Region in BC where your solution creates social impact


How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your solution addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

Specifically we are intending to build on our breadth of experience and strong network of support to open a DIY cultural center in or near the downtown eastside of Vancouver. We want to create a central hub for the widest possible range of visual and performing artists, film-makers, technicians, software and hardware engineers, writers, and practitioners of disciplines that don't yet have names. If we're unsuccessful in our bid to lease the City-owned building on Industrial Ave. we will move forward with an alternate location. We intend to be self-financing and self-sustaining, but in the initial phase we will require a major fundraising effort in order to meet City building codes and to obtain the necessary permits and licenses to operate in a safe and legal manner.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

In our struggle to save our previous location, we received an enormous outpouring of support from the many people whose lives were touched in some way by their association with the Red Gate. We also became something of a lightning rod for the cultural community in general, symbolizing as we did the loss of many other spaces over the last decade due to rising property values and unsympathetic City officials. We see a change in attitude from City Hall in recent months as the impact of this loss has rippled throughout the community, eventually echoing down the corridors of power. The City initiative which led to the "request for proposals" to lease various city buildings as non-profit cultural space came directly out of this struggle. We've proved that it's possible for a group of young artists with meager resources to take a disused old building and turn it into one of the most well-used and well-loved cultural spaces in the city, with no outside support of any kind, public or private.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

By providing necessary cultural habitat, at the "germinal layer" we think we can reverse the trend of young artists and innovators leaving Vancouver for greener pastures in Montreal, Berlin, Detroit, and so on. Our proposed new facility will provide a flagship cultural space, the central focus of a new cultural district, operated and controlled by the artists themselves. A place that builds community from the ground up, through mutual affinities and collaborative, cross-disciplinary activities. Such a center will have an impact not only locally, but nationally and internationally, due to the migratory and digitally-connected nature of modern society. The best investment we can make in the future is to provide space for young artists and creators to invent it.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Our obstacles are mainly of a financial and regulatory nature. Space in Vancouver is very expensive by any measure, and simply leasing a space does not guarantee that one will be allowed to use it for all intended purposes. Once we successfully negotiate our new location, we will have significant up-front costs in undertaking whatever modifications to the building that will be required; development permits, use change applications, and any necessary upgrades to wiring, plumbing, and fire safety systems.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Take inventory of available buildings for lease in or near the downown eastside of Vancouver, rank them in order of suitablity

Task 2

Negotiate an acceptible lease agreement for one of these buildings.

Task 3

Apply for necessary permits and licenses, carry out necessary repairs, and raise funds sufficient for these purposes

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Grand Opening! Announce to the community and city, begin accepting tenant artists from our existing waiting list.

Task 2

Facillitate membershiip-driven program of ongoing services and activities, additional modifications to space as required.

Task 3

Hit our financial targets for ongoing programs and activities. Revise these targets as required.

Tell us about your partnerships

We are currently partnering with the Vancouver Community Laboratory Society ( on our proposal to the City for their building at 281 Industrial Avenue. We see this as and excellent compliment to our mandate in that we see culture in the broadest sense, and are interested in multi-disciplinary collaboration across traditional boundaries.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your solution? If so, where and why?

Our search for space is restricted to the Mixed- and Industrial-zoned areas of central Vancouver: waterfront east of downtown, Clark Dr. corridor, False Creek Flats, etc.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

We ran our previous location for 5 years on a collaborative, cooperative, consensus basis, and we were non-exclusive about who was allowed to take part in decision making. Our main criteria for membership in the management group was a willingness to work enthusiastically and collaboratively, to listen to concerns and respect one another's opinions and points of view. We intend to continue to develop these methods and principles in the future.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Other than our initial startup phase, we intend to operate without requiring outside support. We think it's important for artist-run space to be truly self-sustaining, that is, to satisfy real needs for a real community of members who will support it. That said, we are always looking for collaborators and talented individuals in any discipline, and opportunities to build communities and networks.