Vancouver, Dead or What?

November 24, 2008

vancouver skyline

As a fledgeling artist residing in the city of Vancouver, on Canada’s West coast, I am concerned with the state of the arts and the artistic community here. Is this a place to try to hack out a career in the arts? Is there enough public and private support for artists? Is there enough self-support from fellow artists? In other words, are the cultural, political and social environments in this city conducive to productive art-making, and the production of interesting/exciting art?!

I don’t have answers for these questions; however, from my experience of living here for the past 7 years, I am not inclined to be optimistic. Perhaps it is just the “grass-is-greener” syndrome; I hear about what’s happening in Montreal, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, even Austin, TX, and I get jealous. But maybe the foliage is healthier over there. Maybe, despite all the rain, Vancouver’s greenery is yellowing and drying up. Okay, lately we’ve had some minor success with our indie music scene, our photographers have always done well for themselves, and Hollywood loves our cheap locations, but I wouldn’t call Vancouver a hot-spot for culture or the arts. But why not? What is it about this city that we cannot support a thriving and world renowned artistic community?

And maybe (a BIG maybe) I’m totally off the mark with this criticism. And I would urge you to please prove me wrong! I don’t want to give up on the Terminal City; I was raised in British Columbia, and I appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds and (often) defines Vancouver. But it might end up falling into a cultural coma, and we all need to be active in saving the city from this fate.


Bojangles Cafe on Denman St will soon be just one more Starbucks Coffee shop

Here in the West End of Vancouver, BC, another blow has been struck against local cultural diversity.  The Bojangles Cafe at the intersection of Robson and Denman Streets will be closing at the end of the month.  The (not so quiet) rumour is that the coffee giant and cultural icon (read: steamroller) Starbucks will be appropriating the space for one of their many (many, many, etc., etc.) retail shops.

Announced with a small, typed sign in the front window, Bojangles Cafe stated that it would be closing due to “failure to renew its lease”.  This quote implies that Bojangles Cafe itself is at fault for its impending closure, which is likely an incomplete, if not misleading, statement.

To get a more inclusive picture of the situation, we must examine the factors behind the Cafe’s failure to renew its lease.  Firstly, real estate in the West End is (to put it mildly) pricey, and the demand for retail space in such a high traffic area as Robson Street is enormous.  This means that building owners can, and do, maintain and enforce inflated rental costs.

The second and more unnerving factor is Starbucks’ aggressive retail expansion campaign.  Knowing the lease was coming up on the space Bojangles currently occupies, the American corporate giant likely made an offer to the building owner that the local company could not hope to compete with.

Hence, Bojangles’ “failure to renew its lease” is more aptly Starbucks’ (continued) success at strong-arming its way into the urban and cultural geography, by way of extinguishing local and independent spirit.  Of course, this is just the capitalist, free-market paradigm at work, which we embrace wholeheartedly in this great democracy of ours.