East Vancouver’s Wise Hall at risk of closing amid pandemic debt, inflation

Click to play video: 'Popular Wise Hall in East Vancouver in danger of closing'
Popular Wise Hall in East Vancouver in danger of closing
WATCH: Members of the Wise Hall board say the long-standing community hall and music venue is in trouble due to paying back pandemic funding, operating cost increases and inflation. As Troy Charles reports, there's a major move afoot to ensure the bands play on – May 15, 2024

A beloved and long-running East Vancouver arts and culture hub says it’s at risk of closing if it can’t clear a financial hurdle in the next several months.

Occupying a near-century-old former church on Adanac Street, the Wise Hall Social and Community Arts Club has been a fixture of the Grandview Woodland neighbourhood since the 1960s when it incorporated as a club for Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English expatriates.

It’s since evolved into a member-run social arts and entertainment venue, hosting everything from choirs to rock bands to Halloween parties in its upstairs hall.

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“We support all communities and all voices and expressions, you could host your book club, you can have a square dance, you can do literally anything for most often a better price than anywhere else,” said Wise Club spokesperson Megan Giunta.

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“There isn’t really anything like it in the city, and that’s what we’re hearing from performers and all the people who love to come to the venue and also use the facilities, for their own performances: it’s affordable, it’s accessible, it’s safe.”

But venue operators say the space is at risk primarily due to struggles to repay COVID-19 pandemic-related debt. As a non-profit, it is also being pinched by rising operating costs, including a growing property tax bill.

The cash crunch has been compounded by the surging cost of living, which director-at-large Vanessa Violini said has meant people are spending less on arts and entertainment.

The organization needs to come up with about $200,000 in the next two months or is at risk of shutting down, she said.

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“That’ll help carry us through a slow time in summer, and, in the meantime, it allows us to get enough traction for underneath our long-term sustainability plan,” she said.

“We are confident as a new board that we will absolutely succeed if we can get over this hump.”

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The club has launched a membership and fundraising drive with a larger goal of $700,000 which it said will also help with facility upgrades and community outreach, as well as keeping the doors open.

It’s also organizing a four-night concert series to help shore up finances.

Giunta said the community response has already been overwhelming.

“It took less than 48 hours to fill four full nights, and it’s all volunteer, it’s all for fundraising — it is incredible the names that are coming out, and they are all sharing the same message: that they have a need for this space to stay alive,” she said.

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“Not a single one of them can imagine a city without it, for their own musical careers and their own expressions and reasons that they need to use this venue, and they are all really showing up in a big way — and the community as well.”

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The club is hoping to sign up 500 new members for a $10 membership and is also collecting one-off donations.

It’s also seeking volunteers and clients to book the hall for events.

“It belongs to the community and it is part of the community for the community,” Violini said.

“Arts and culture is where the seeds of discourse and  social change take place, and the Wise Hall provides a valuable resource where conversations happen and grow into artistic expression, they bring people together.”

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