Arts District in North Richmond Sparks to Life

A newspaper article about our new Executive Director.
Photo by Chung Chow for the Richmond Sentinel

There’s a driveway-style dip in the sidewalk directly in front of Rob Fillo’s stylish new North Richmond home in a neighbourhood that’s just sprouting to life.

His spacious two-storey live/work studio suite doesn’t boast a garage, but there is a warehouse-style roll-up door that together with the driveway almost invites drivers to turn in.

In essence, that’s what Fillo hopes people will do (minus their cars of course) in the not-too-distant future: come in, say hello, enjoy a cup of java while soaking in the sights and sounds at the heart of Richmond’s new arts district.

Welcome to Concord Gardens, a multi-family residential development on Sexsmith Road, north of Capstan Way, that includes 20 subsidized one- and two-bedroom lofts that range from 875 to 1,125 square feet and rent for $837 per month.

Fillo, the executive director of the Richmond Arts Coalition, applied for a unit many years ago, and on Oct. 19, he and his neighbours received the keys to their new homes.

Fillo, flashing an ear-to-ear smile, credited Richmond city council and local arts organizations for having the foresight to champion this project so many years ago.

“It’s wild. It’s just fantastic. This is the very beginning, and the catalyst to help bring arts to this area. In the future…I see a real arts hub, so 10 years, 20 years down the road you could have galleries, studio spaces, working spaces…an affordable performance venue.”

Fillo’s home couldn’t be better located. His end-unit sits right next to what he believes will become a small park, and he envisions offering song-writing classes and acoustic music showcases just inside the front of his home as families walk by from the many nearby new residential high-rises.

To be eligible for one of the subsidized units, applicants must be professional artists who demonstrate a need, and fall within an income range, he said.

While the studio units may lack privacy, the extensive use of glass will help address what Fillo thinks is one of the most important parts of arts: community engagement.

“You can paint all day long in a room, but if no one’s seeing it, that could be lovely for you but you’re not really sharing it with the world,” he said.

“So to have a space like this, where I can even invite clients, where I could be teaching lessons, I could be painting right in the front with the door open, and really invite the community to take a peek in and look at art.”

There are endless possibilities for the industrial-style spaces that also include a metal catwalk on the upper level that leads from the bedroom space to the patio.

Former city councilor Linda Barnes, who is the current chair of the Richmond Arts Coalition, was on council when they voted for these buildings, he said.

“It’s kind of neat to see Richmond and the municipal government getting behind the arts, and really developing the arts and culture in Richmond.”

Concord Gardens ARTS (artist residential tenancy studio) units are part of the City of Richmond’s affordable housing strategy.

More subsidized artists studios are in the plans for a development that is now taking shape just across the street from Fillo’s home. The Pinnacle development will include 17 more artists live/work studios.

“I’m a professional artist and song writing isn’t paying my bills yet, and that’s 20 years into the game, so you have to be a little bit nuts to be an artist in this kind of environment. “.

But Fillo’s drive come from the passion he has for creating something from nothing, something beautiful.

“You can change the world with your art,” he said. “To have a place like this is amazing.”

Being amongst like-minded people will only enhance the creative process, he said. On paper, it will also foster stronger connections and enable collaboration.

“It’s really special to have a group of professional artists, who are hungry for an arts career in a town like Richmond at the very spark of its arts revolution, if I can call it that,” he said.

“We’re kind of the unprecedented start of the arts district. We haven’t had subsidized housing like this as far as I know in Richmond ever before for artists specifically.”

In a world where artists are struggling to buy food and pay rent, they can go into survival mode and this results, Fillo says, in “alienation and segregation of artists that way.”

The new arts hub holds the promise of changing that.

“What happens is (artists) have that extra free time and you’re not in survival mode and you can afford to buy healthy food, the basics, which leads to a more collaborative effort,” he said.

In his role as the executive director of the arts coalition, Fillo said he’ll personally be well-positioned to become a “central hub” for artists.

“Artists will know they can come to me if they need any information like events around town, if they have a programming feature they want to put on, I can always help and mentor and direct them towards the right grants they need or the right people to speak to,” he said.

Fillo is hopeful green spaces will be sprinkled throughout the neighbourhood, which will encourage people to come out of their homes to take in the fresh air and socialize.

“People will sit at home and watch Netflix but if you have an event it can be really hard to get people out.”

Martin van den Hemel / Richmond Sentinel

October 24, 2017