Alma Lee, founder of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, says Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (which is responsible for managing Granville Island) has created a “culture of fear and anger” among artists.
Arlen Redekop / PNG
The founder of the Vancouver Writers Festival is calling for Granville Island to be managed by a non-profit group to preserve its unique character.Alma Lee said Granville Island has been “declining” for several years and blamed a series of recent vacancies on a “culture of fear and anger” created by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC).“They don’t understand the ethos and spirit of Granville Island,” she said of CMHC, which manages Granville Island on behalf of the federal government. “Granville Island has always been a community. But now it’s a community that’s divided and threatened.”Lee’s criticism comes in the wake of the Granville Island 2040 planning project, which was completed in 2017 after a public engagement process that received input from 10,000 stakeholders and members of the public. The final report included a plan to build an elevator from the Granville Bridge to the island, expansion of the public market, and increased support for arts and innovation after Emily Carr University relocated to a new campus on Great Northern Way.While Lee said she agrees with parts of the vision, she has serious concerns about the governance structure being implemented.In January, CMHC announced a “momentous and positive change” in Granville Island’s governance with the formation of the seven-member Granville Island Council, which will be responsible for making key decisions pertaining to long-term planning and budgeting.But Lee said the island was promised an “autonomous governance structure” and the new council will be anything but. She pointed out that three of the seven members will be appointed — two by CMHC and one by the City of Vancouver — while the other four will be nominated. The head of the nominating committee is the general manager of CMHC Granville Island.“If there are CMHC members on the council, it is no longer an independent body,” said Lee, who no longer heads the writers festival. “Their management style is a top-down, authoritarian approach. That doesn’t work in a place like Granville Island.”The executive director of the Granville Island Cultural Society agreed with Lee’s characterization. Barbara Chirinos’ organization held the contract to manage the cultural facilities on the island for almost two decades, but moved off the island last summer when a new group took over.
People walk past the north building of the now closed Emily Carr University of Art and Design campus at Granville Island in Vancouver.
DARRYL DYCK /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
She said the society has heard from some former clients who rented theatres for events and are “very unhappy.”Chirinos also expressed concern about leaseholders who rent space directly from CMHC.“If they have concerns about their leases or how they’re being treated, they have no one to talk to,” she said. “They’re afraid to stand up to CMHC for fear their leases won’t be renewed.”She questioned the independence of the new council. “For CMHC to be in charge of the nominating committee, it’s still a situation where they’re in control.”But CMHC Granville Island public affairs manager Lisa Ono said CMHC has been “tremendously supportive of the arts community on Granville Island” and recognizes it as key to the island’s success.Ono took issue with the notion that Granville Island is in a period of decline, calling it “a time of positive change.” She said three long-term tenants retired over the past year, and their spaces were offered to new artists as short-term rentals to try out their business models.CMHC also offers below-market rents to more than 50 artists and studios, ranging from $6.50 per square foot to $18 per square foot, and recently invested $1.7 million to upgrade arts and culture spaces.One of the two vacant Emily Carr buildings is being taken over by Arts Umbrella, while the other will be transformed into a multi-tenant “arts and innovation hub” over several years.“In terms of the council, the new governance structure will actually give more authority to community members,” said Ono. The council is open to members of the public and the nominating committee is not made up of CMHC employees, with the exception of the general manager. The two CMHC appointments to the committee are necessary to provide “not direction, but information and updates informed by the 2040 plan.”Ono said the discontent being expressed by some people is not “pervasive” across the community. “Granville Island is thriving,” she said.Related firstname.lastname@example.org/glendaluymes