Tuesday, March 3, 2020 Vancouver Lifestyle
SAVE THE ARTS & CULTURE SECTOR BEFORE OUR CITY LOSES ALL OF IT'S SOUL!

Please share FAR and WIDE!

This is a letter that we, The Beaumont Studios Artist Resource Society (BSAS), sent to the city council & senior staff of Vancouver last week to continue our push for property tax abatement for Beaumont and the cultural sector. We are in a great position right now as the province announced 2 weeks ago that they grant the municipality the power to enact short term solutions for property tax splits.

The city staff will be in backdoor meetings between now and their allotted announcements in April of this year to let us know what they choose to do with this power. It is important for us to have our voices heard prior to them making financial decisions on how this property tax split will be implemented.

With that - we have decided to share with the public the letter that we have written them - in the hopes that the cultural sector receives property tax abatement or an equivalent. More is explained below.

If you would like to help get behind this - instead of a petition - we ask that you write your council to please consider tax abatement for the cultural sector. The purpose of this sharing this letter is to keep you - the public - in the loop.

We love the work this city staff and council are doing and have great faith in them to make the right decisions.

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To our esteemed council and senior city staff,

At this time last year, I (Jude Kusnierz)began crafting a letter very similar to this one. The financial sustainability of our organization was dire at the time, and - as you - the city, are in the process of coming up with long term solutions for our sector we need our community’s voice to be heard now more than ever.

Thankfully & finally after years of lobbying, the province has given you the power to make the property tax. This is a great step as they look for long term permanent solutions.

As you already know, Vancouver is losing cultural spaces left right and centre, displacement seems to be the word of the year. We do not want to be next and we want to help you help us sustain our cultural space for decades to come.

Since that letter requesting the enactment of legislation section 396(f), we have not seen property tax relief solutions for this taxation year. The city staff and council did take some important action, and, after many months of working together, a thorough financial audit, revisiting and rewriting our business plan, as well as clear explanation of how the funds awarded would be used, the city staff recommended that the council approve a relief grant to be awarded to us. This relief was used to pay our outstanding property tax owed to the landlord. This was a one-time crisis grant getting us through to the 2020 property tax announcements. As we await the city to define what the “split property tax” will look like, we write now, because we want to have input as it is developed.

My main responsibility as Executive Director of The Beaumont Studios is short & long term planning. This is almost impossible to do without knowing what this taxation relief will look like. As the property taxes continue to increase, it is now even more imperative that property tax exemption is implemented for our hallmark space and others like us. Until tax abatement or relief happens we are unable to make any long term goals, only short and, even then - most of the short term goals are ‘how do we pay the rent, in full and on time?’ Instead of building on our programming, writing grants, working with the community to build bigger and better gatherings surrounding our creative work, we are constantly figuring out how to reorganize The Beaumont Studios Artist Resource Society to account for these increases.

This letter is a call to action as well as a reminder that property tax exemption is the most important thing the city and province can offer to the NFP Arts & Culture sector. The crippling tax burdens have hit us time and again over the last five years. If complete tax exemption is not seriously considered, recovery is almost unimaginable as you have continued to raise the taxes without fail every year.

As we see it, there are a couple of options; one - enact property tax abatement, (as was implemented at the Woodward's building) and two - implement legislation section 396(f) created for this exact type of support.

It has been suggested by city staff that grants are a better approach than implementing section 396(f). Transparency is the term used relating to this decision, however, there are several reasons that this isn’t the best option. Grants require research, time, and are financially constraining for organizations who are already funding challenged. Additionally, there are no guarantees as to who will be awarded the grants and in fact, there is no actual property tax grant in existence. Grants come with ‘fund matching’, which just leads to more workloads and pressure on organizations. Not to mention there isn’t even an operational grant available to date at a city level, so this process is too far off in the making. This year we were so thankful to receive an infrastructure grant that allowed us to fix our roof & heating system, however, as we were unable to put it towards property taxes, upgrading these things might be a major waste of taxpayers dollars if we are still unable to keep our space open due to property tax increases specifically.

Would our time not be better served for everyone including city staff, council and tax-paying community members if we spent our efforts on increasing and improving programming and the affordability/accessibility of our spaces?

Suggested approaches to create transparency around this legislation, would be to use 2020 as a pilot test year, implement criteria for organizations to apply for relief so that landlords don’t end up taking advantage of the system. If rebates were offered specifically to organizations applying at year start, this would mitigate these possible outcomes.

As we struggle to keep our doors open, our staff continue to work for less than the cost of living in Vancouver, we work longer hours, we have created spaces where once there was none, we are exhausted and frankly are tired of trying to keep the place alive, so we now officially implore you - the city staff and council - to take the action needed to stop making it a battle for our arts and cultural spaces to survive. This is not where we hoped to be 15 years into what once was an incredibly sustainable business model.

We reiterate that we are so grateful for the relief funding we received this past 2019. However, looking at the big picture, relief funding is not necessarily the best approach for taxpayer money to be spent. If we really look at it, giving money to a tenant, to give to a landlord who in turn gives it back to the city for taxes, who then turns around asks for more money from the taxpayer to replenish the coffers, seems to be a convoluted, redundant and wasteful process.

Consider the number of hours spent by city staff and our organization’s staff to accomplish this temporary fix.

Please accept this letter as a petition and a preventative measure so that the Arts sector, artists of Vancouver and community members do not begin to rally & march. It is an understatement that we insist that severe and swift action of the following or an equivalent action be taken:

1. Implement legislation 396, section (f) within your pre-determined criteria for the entire arts & culture sector.

2. Use tax abatement for The Beaumont Studios and spaces like, for the duration of their leases and apply for future lease negotiations as well.

This letter represents the sentiment of our community at large. We will continue to do the work needed to sustain a healthy community/city, build a better & stronger arts sector and allow artists to feel safe in the knowledge that their creative spaces will remain for years to come - all the while knowing that the city council and staff have got their back. These professional artisans, their family and community are counting on you to make the right decision on this.

Tax the large corporations, not the small involved community members who only exist to make our city more vibrant.

On behalf of all The Beaumont Studios community, I thank you in advance for your considerations & efforts to see this through,

Jude Kusnierz
& The Beaumont Studios Artist Resource Society
    • Phone number(s)604 715 4344
    • Location(s) 316 W 5th Ave, Vancouver, British Columbia V5Y 3P1
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