Low Tide Renovictions Lead to the Loss of Independent Art Spaces

As properties are bought and renovated, artists are being pushed out of their communities

People’s houses as well as valuable community art spaces are being shut down as a result of development associated with Chip Wilson.(submitted)

The name Chip Wilson is probably familiar to most people in Vancouver. Born in California and having graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor’s degree in economics, Wilson is a businessman who is responsible for a number of Vancouver-based retail apparel companies, most notably the athleisure wear brand Lululemon.

He and his wife Shannon received honorary doctorates from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2015. In a press release, KPU President and Vice-Chancellor Alan Davis said, “Chip and Shannon Wilson are wonderful and loyal friends to the KPU community and it gives me great pleasure to recognize them in this way.”

KPU also named the design school in Richmond after him after he helped fund its construction by donating to the KPU Foundation in 2012. Chip and Shannon Wilson donated $8 million towards the $36 million project, which opened in January 2018.

In August, Global News covered a demonstration outside of Wilson’s Point Grey home protesting the renovictions in Northeast Vancouver’s by one of Wilson’s other companies, Low Tide Properties.

Vancouver artists and angered tenants rally outside of Chip Wilson’s home. (submitted)

According to Tascha Speck, a member of the Vancouver Tenants Union and one of the organizers of the rally, renoviction is a newer term meaning “eviction for the sake of renovation,” which usually takes place due to a lack of what Speck refers to as “vacancy control.” Real Rent Control BC, another organization advocating for B.C. tenants’ rights, explains that vacancy control is “a form of rent control that means landlords can’t raise the rent when tenants move out or are evicted.” Without this measure, Speck argues, it’s in “the landlord’s best interest to evict the current tenant in favour of a higher-paying tenant.”

This ultimately contributes not only to the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver, but also to the gentrification of low-to-mid income neighbourhoods, as many of the tenants evicted from these neighbourhoods tend to be marginalized, impoverished, or a combination of the two.

Global reported that Low Tide has renovicted at least 18 properties in Vancouver’s northeast. Some of these spaces had previously belonged to arts and culture organizations and non-profits, many of which relied on donations and event revenue. Index Gallery at 1305 Powell Street was one of these properties. The Gallery was an East Vancouver arts and events space run by local film producer Nathan Drillot.

Merge, another art space that shared the building with Index, was also pushed out by the renoviction. On April 14, a post was made on the Merge Facebook page which read, “Over the last five years, we’ve loved being part of a community of listeners, creators, and friends old and new. We’ve stewarded a gathering space that supports interdisciplinary creative development while helping create personal connections that may not have happened otherwise. And we’ve had a whole lot of fun.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve been given notice to vacate as of June 1 due to renovations of the entire building,” it continues.

There are some politicians who are speaking out against renovictions. Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson considers the erasure of arts spaces especially alarming. As a long-standing advocate for affordable housing, Swanson feels that art “can help catalyze work for change” and that “resistance to tyranny starts with artists.”

Beyond their cultural importance in a city like Vancouver, Speck says galleries like Index and Merge “created safer neighbourhoods and stimulated the economy.” Their renovictions “keep [those] properties empty due to the exorbitant rent increase” and result in artists “being pushed to the margins and losing their homes and their studios,” she argues. This, in turn, could mean that their neighbourhoods might see an increase in crime and poverty.

At the rally, Wilson briefly addressed the protestors outside of his home, claiming that they were renovicted because “the world doesn’t want enough of [their] product.” This was received about as well as can be reasonably expected.

Both Speck and Swanson had their own thoughts on this remark. Speck stated that Wilson’s comments come across as being “from a capitalist standpoint” and representative of “the disconnect between Chip’s affluence and the reality for most of these people [at the demonstration].”

Swanson believes that Wilson “is pushing for an unjust system” that almost exclusively benefits elite members of society such as himself.

This apathy towards the real struggles of Vancouver artists has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Wilson School of Design’s namesake, as well as the honorary doctorates awarded to him by Kwantlen and Emily Carr.

Vancouver has had a long history of being a lesser-known hub for activism, and art and activism have long gone hand in hand. This city that also helped give rise to, among other things, Greenpeace, the locavore movement (including the 100 Mile Diet), and Occupy Wall Street.

Chip Wilson doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in Vancouver’s activist scene – in fact, at this rate, many activists would likely say it’s better that he’s not—but he needs to be aware that it’s here, and the artists he’s renovicting make up a sizeable portion of it.

The world may not necessarily want enough independently made products to satisfy entrepreneurs like Chip Wilson now, but it may soon find itself needing more of them in the future. When that day comes, artists  and entrepreneurs being able to afford spaces of their own is far more important than Low Tide earning millions of dollars that, for the most part, will have no positive effect on Vancouver as a whole.