Downtown building provides much-needed affordable studios and galleries to 70 artists.
LOGAN FORD KNOWS how hard it is to be an artist in Victoria, and how it’s getting harder. “I’ve been doing this for nine years, running art studios and finding affordable space,” Ford says. “I’ve had four locations in those nine years because we’re constantly being gentrified by new construction, or greedy landlords.”
A landscape painter himself, Ford has become a kind of property manager for Victoria’s creators, constantly searching for centrally-located spaces that haven’t yet been overwhelmed by the city’s development boom. But in January he found a new home, with a huge profile: the 39,366-square-foot BC Power Commission building at 780 Blanshard, next to the Chateau Victoria. More than 70 artists have since moved in, taking three floors of the building, and this Saturday, April 23 they’re holding an open house from 2 to 8 pm—which Ford hopes will not only showcase their art, but prove their need for a shared, affordable workplace.
The BC Power Commission Building at 780 Blanshard Avenue provides 40,000 square feet to artists (photo by Ross Crockford)
Arts-hub impresario Logan Ford, with one of his paintings
I’m seeing a really sharp decline in artists in this city,” Ford says. “They’re leaving in droves.” Many are going to Montreal, or Mexico, or up-Island—a significant loss to a city that prides itself on being one of the most creative in Canada. “I’m trying to keep the spark alive here,” Ford says. “A lot of artists who rent from me have told me they wouldn’t be here any more if it weren’t for this space.”
Four galleries have been set up in the Power Commission building, and Ford has one on the second floor, lining the hallways with a variety of pieces for a show appropriately called “Form & Ephemera: Reflections on Impermanence.” One wall features huge cyanotype prints by Joel Nicholas Peterson, who got into a downtown Vancouver building before it was demolished and turned one room into a giant pinhole camera, burning images of the surrounding landscape onto 13-foot film negatives—the world’s largest, according to Guinness. (“The conceptual element of his piece is pretty relevant to us,” Ford says.) Another wall displays a giant heart and brain that Ian George created from garbage collected off local beaches. Yet another features wildly abstract “blob rugs” by recent UVic grad Emily Kirsch; one is titled “A Place to Rest.”
Down on the first floor (next to the building’s main entrance on Fairfield Road), open-house visitors will find the Victoria Tool Library, a walk-in bank vault turned into an immersive art installation, and one of several whimsically interactive musical “instruments” by Scott Amos, made from repurposed parts of antique machines.
Joel Peterson’s cyanotypes and Emily Kirsch’s “blob rugs” adorn the second-floor gallery (photo by Ross Crockford)
Interactive instruments, made by Monkey C Interactive (comprised of Scott Amos and David Parfit) pop up around the new arts hub (photo by Ross Crockford)
The fourth floor is being converted into a media lab, with a video-editing suite, a photo/video studio, and a recording studio that’s already attracted international interest. “This is pretty remarkable,” says Ron Thaler, a jazz-fusion drummer and music producer from New York who’s taking a room on the fourth floor. “I love the collective energy here, creating something in a place that never had it before.”
For several years the City of Victoria has discussed creating an arts hub in the old courthouse in Bastion Square, but those plans have been shelved while the provincial government decides what to do with the building, which has been closed since 2014 and needs millions in seismic upgrades. This past January, the City also considered putting an arts hub in the public housing planned for the site of the former Speedy Glass on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, but a majority of councillors voted to reserve the space for the building’s residents instead.
Ford has signed a two-year lease with Reliance Properties, the Power Commission building’s owner, which recently submitted plans to develop it into a 77-room hotel, with a 22-storey, 102-unit residential tower on top, while preserving its Art Deco details. Ford says Reliance has been “great to deal with,” and hopes a similar hub could be created in the massive arts and innovation district that Reliance has proposed north of Chinatown.
In the meantime, Ford hopes more local artists will take advantage of the temporary refuge he and his allies have created, and that residents will visit it regularly, starting with Saturday’s open house. “We want people to see that there is a vibrant scene here, and see the value in showing it more support.”
Ross Crockford is a Victoria-based writer.