TUPs for home-based studios, a year on 

The value to artists and the RMOW is still being considered with one more year left in pilot project

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - Home comforts Ceramicist Vincent Massey at his studio. Massey and his wife Cheryl, a basket weaver, decided to take part in the municipality's temporary-use permit pilot program.
  • File photo
  • Home comforts Ceramicist Vincent Massey at his studio. Massey and his wife Cheryl, a basket weaver, decided to take part in the municipality's temporary-use permit pilot program.

A year ago, the proposed temporary use permits (TUP) program for home-based studios led to heated debate between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and members of the resort's visual art community.

The latter said they were being penalized twice for requiring both a $165 business license and a $200/year TUP to operate home studios.

A compromise of sorts was found, with Arts Whistler (AW) stepping forward with an offer to fund the first intake of TUPs, which allowed artists to forgo the annual $200 fee over a two-year period. The information gathered would work as a pilot project for the scheme.

Four home-based studios — Vincent Massey Pottery Gallery, Everyday Pearls by Borgi, Alpine Art, and Sass Designs — signed up to see how artists could benefit from running home studios but not fall foul of municipal bylaws.

So, how is it going so far?

Massey and his wife Cheryl, a basket weaver, have been selling their art in Whistler for three decades. The couple said they are disappointed with the result to this point.

"We became legal for the first time in 32 years," Vincent said."At first I was reluctant to take money that was meant to foster the arts in Whistler, but we did so in order to see what would happen, what it would mean to be legal, and what the municipality or arts council would do to bring traffic to our gallery."

Both were unhappy with the lack of traffic and had hoped that the RMOW and AW would do more promotion.

"Basically, nobody has been showing up," said Cheryl.

"What they said it would do, like marketing, putting us on a digital map — as far as we know, nothing like that has happened. There has been no action that we can really report."

Vincent added: "We don't get a lot of traffic to begin with. What we do get is not coming from (the TUP), it's people that we drum up."

Vincent said this made him think there was a lack of will in making the program work, and criticized the RMOW.

"I've known for years that there is dysfunction between the political will and municipal staff," he said.

"It's easy for a politician to say that they're going to try something, but when a door gets shut when they get to the municipal level, that's where the will is lacking. We are here and we make our living from the arts, it's our sole income, so there is a lot at stake for us."

He said he'd like to remove the TUP fee entirely, calling it "a fine on artists," since home-based artists were already obliged to hold business licenses. Their TUP fee is covered by AW until the fall of 2018.

Vincent added that 80 different artists had been identified as potentially requiring TUPs.

"Artists are the only ones who have to pay a special $200 fee to sell. It's quite appalling. For 32 years, we've had a business license for basically an illegal business. They take your money and then tell you, you can't (trade). I'm not sure how they can do that. I can run my business but not sell anything," he said.

Cheryl added: "It becomes a grey zone. They are basing this whole TUP around having this business out of your home. It is frustrating and confusing."

AW's executive director Maureen Douglas said the organization's role was to help the RMOW with the intake of artists, using a jury to approve the artists, similar to what they do for markets.

"There was a concern by the municipality that someone might put a couple of strokes of paint across a T-shirt and call it art versus what (painter) Vanessa Stark does, which is unique and definitely by her hand. She puts a lot of her line drawings on fabric," Douglas said.

They felt it important to have participants sign on.

"We were in a unique position thanks to the (Canada Heritage) grant last year to be able to test-drive the TUP and have it paid for for the first year," Douglas said.

"There was a lot of concern about the rates, but this gave people the opportunity to test it and see how it would work for them."

By early October, AW will do another wave, inviting more artists to apply for the final pilot year.

A culture crawl is also possible as a one-day event next spring to get the public into home studios in Whistler. Douglas said they are currently in talks with the municipality to organize it. The plan would be for artists to open up their homes, or set up a public space to sell art and be exempted from the TUP requirement for that day.

"Vancouver does this, Salt Spring Island does this, and there are some on Vancouver Island, others in the Interior. There are a lot of models that we could use in order to bring all the artists out for one day," Douglas said.

"The TUP is a deterrent for some people. It just doesn't work for some folks because they don't have a studio that they could open full time, but to have one day where they could show their work in their own environment or a shared environment would be great."

Asked to define the requirements for home-based studios, a spokesperson for the RMOW said artist insurance is not needed by the RMOW, nor is space for parking large vehicles such as buses, with guest parking subject to the normal restrictions.

Hours are allowed to run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with occasional special events allowed during the evening.

Signage of up to 0.65 metres is allowed on the studio building, plus one freestanding sign on the property of up to two square metres.

No more than five people are allowed to receive instruction onsite at a time.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she felt the program had gone well, and hoped more artists would take part in the October call.

Arts Whistler is finalizing a Whistler Valley-based culture map that will include all the artists that are registered in the TUP program.

Asked if she thought that other businesses who had objected to the competition a year ago were more onboard now, Wilhelm-Morden said:

"Oh, I think so, because we haven't had complaints. We worked with commercial galleries at the beginning and Arts Whistler has continued to stay in touch with them. I think it is gaining acceptance all round."

Wilhelm-Morden said the RMOW was achieving a good result, notwithstanding the bumps along the way.

"I remain confident that this was a good initiative," she said.

After the year period concludes, Wilhelm-Morden said she expects there will be a report to council on the home-based studio experiment.

"This is all part of the cultural tourism strategy and we've got a number of other initiatives with the Cultural Connector and so on that we report back on.

"Particularly as this is the last year of our mandate," she said.

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