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Artists Fear Future of New South Van Studio

Long-term security for artists a problem across Vancouver

Yue Baoyo, an artist at Ebisu Studios, paints in his studio space at 8815 Selkirk St. on March 8, 2018. Photo by Lisa Steacy.
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Reported by Lisa Steacy

A new artist-run studio in Marpole is facing an uncertain future as the building’s impending sale is making it difficult to attract enough artists to make ends meet.

Ebisu Studios opened in November of last year when its three founders – Michelle Sturley, Linda Kirkness and Billy Hebb – signed a lease for the ground floor of 8815 Selkirk St.

Sturley said she and her colleagues will be asked to leave once the building sells, and the owner is only required to give them one month’s notice to vacate.

A precarious deal

She added that while the uncertain terms of the lease made it more affordable, Ebisu hasn’t been able to offer artists long-term security.

“It’s scared several people away.”

Ebisu has enough space for eight artists with rental rates between $250 to $550 per month, but has never been at capacity. Some former tenants have left for other cities or spaces on short notice. The Ebisu founders have made up the shortfall in rent by paying out of their own pockets.

Studio space sparse

Shoemaker Amy Slosky rents space at Ebisu. She was disappointed when she began looking into city-owned studio spaces after moving back to Vancouver from Toronto, and found Vancouver only subsidized seven such spaces.

“I was like, that’s it? That’s what Vancouver has to offer their artist community? It’s kind of pitiful actually,” she said.

The city had 158 applications for those seven studios last year. Meanwhile, nearly 8,000 artists work in Vancouver, with 65 per cent of them making less than $40,000 per year, meaning that the vast majority of those artists must find space with privately-run studios like Ebisu.

Aphrodite Blagojevic is the most recent artist to join Ebisu. She said rent tripled at her last studio when a developer bought the entire block, and called finding suitable space in Vancouver “a disaster.”

Painting positivity

Sturley and her colleagues are doing their best to remain positive.

“It was such a good feeling to come together,” Sturley said.

“It’s been touch and go, but we see it as a way to establish a community and maybe have the resources to pool to get a proper space next time.”

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