Surrey artists facing budget cuts say they're squeezed for space with nowhere to go

It's amazing what you can do with an old auto body shop if you turn it over to a group of artists.

It may not look like much, but the cultural value of the creative space at 10660 City Parkway in Surrey, B.C., is huge, according to a director with the Royal Canadian Theatre Company. 

"I cannot put a high enough value on what this space does," said Ellie King, who manages the 2,500 square feet of space at the city-owned building.

"It's an empty room with some lights and a floor, but the fact that it exists is the reason there's so much art going on here."

About a third of the building is used for set building, dance rehearsals, acting classes and every other type of art you can imagine.

The other two thirds are used for a homeless shelter.

Surrey's previous mayor and council approved $1.2 million in funding to build a cultural corridor, which included the expansion of the 10660 City Parkway building.

Under the plan, artists would be given more room for a workshop and storage, which would free up the rest of the facility for rehearsals, meetings and performances.

On Monday night, Surrey city council will vote on whether to delay the expansion as part of Mayor Doug McCallum's plan to postpone more than $135 million in projects.

Jesse Johnston/CBC

Nowhere to go

High rental costs and low vacancy rates have made it difficult for artists to find affordable space where they can rehearse, build sets and store props.

Randy Hyman — a dancer from Montreal who now lives down the street from 10660 City Parkway — loves the facility but says it's usually booked solid.

"This space is great, but it's being used as a scene shop right now, so there's no option for me," he said.

"A lot of my work I create outside, because you need a space to rehearse for five, six or seven hours, and that's expensive."

Stephanie Bruce, a stage manager with the Royal Canadian Theatre Company, wishes the space was bigger, but her group hasn't been able to find another space in Surrey.

She says before 10660 Parkway opened, the only option in her price range was an abandoned mall.

"We were rehearsing in an old, empty storefront at the old Cloverdale Mall," she said. "You know, the one that was condemned?"

Jesse Johnston/CBC

What about art?

Bruce acknowledges that in a region with high real estate prices and low vacancy rates, there is fierce competition for space.

Still, she wishes providing artists with places where they can work was a bigger priority in Surrey.

"Most people don't think about art at all, which is unfortunate," she said.

"A lot of time and effort goes into a finished product. To get to that finished product, you need a space to work in. It doesn't just appear magically."

Jesse Johnston/CBC

Competing for dollars

Surrey's proposed budget also includes postponing an arena in Cloverdale and a community centre in Grandview Heights.

The Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association and other community members staged a well attended rally to show their support for a new rink.

They have also written letters to the mayor and turned out in droves earlier this week to the city's public meeting on the budget.

Ellen Farrugia with the Surrey City Orchestra says the arts community should be more vocal in advocating for their needs.

"We, as artists, have to do a much better job of pointing out what's lacking and speaking out for ourselves," she said.

"We have to point out what an economic driver the arts are."