The arts venue claims it has become more difficult to throw events in the city following increased scrutiny.
Two weeks ago, the East Vancouver arts venue made national headlines when its Backdoor Halloween party—part of an alternative queer event series—was the subject of a private investigation ordered by downtown gay nightclub The Odyssey. Bijan Ahmadian, owner and operator of The Odyssey, alleged that VAL was abusing its arts event license by over-pouring drinks and allowing sex acts and drug use out in the open, as well as packing the club past capacity.
The arts event license program is one of Vancouver's recent initiatives to revitalize its nightlife and make it easier to host events. The validity of VAL's arts license had already been questioned by the city after a fetish party this past March, though Troy and VAL were allowed to continue with events after that.
Ahmadian originally said that his investigation was in the interest of the safety of VAL patrons. A National Post article last week, however, suggested that The Odyssey was in direct competition with VAL and had been suffering as a result. Ahmadian, for his part, told RA that business was well and declined to make any other comment.
The scrutiny and attention resulting from the claims made by Ahmadian and his report have caused a knock-on effect for both venues. The Odyssey has been the subject of a social media push, with users flooding its Facebook and Yelp pages with negative reviews. Some community members and artists associated with the bar have since cut ties, including prominent gay DJ Adam Dreaddy, who will no longer DJ or host his events at The Odyssey.
"This set [the gay community] back," he told RA. "It showed the news that we are catty and not unified, regardless of what Bijan meant to do. It left a poor taste in my mouth. If the community is divided, it affects everyone. I will continue to work with VAL because Matt doesn't care what other people are doing."
VAL, meanwhile, has been the subject of increased attention from authorities and the general public. Many events, including nights with Prosumer and Oshana, have cancelled or been moved away from VAL as a result. In a statement given exclusively to RA, Troy claims that the underground scene in general has been negatively affected by the attention.
You can read Troy's statement in full below.
The unfair allegations have definitely had their desired impact—to restrict the ability of VAL to produce events. In many ways, the increased scrutiny has also empowered our art form to bring this discussion of artistic rights to the forefront. Some of the artists who use the space were very concerned about the safety of their upcoming events—we had to cancel some events, and move others. With the uncertainty that followed the immediate impacts of the story, no one knew what would happen.
The day the article broke, many other venues and cultural organizers reached out expressing their solidarity with our programming. We had hundreds messages of well-wishes and support in our inboxes, and were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, not just for our space, but for the need for queer & gender-positive spaces, and artistic creation in general. We had dozens of concerned citizens write into city and city council to tell them about their positive experiences with VAL. We received hundreds of likes on our page and thousands of new viewers.
We also have a new opportunity to discuss the importance of artist spaces, and artist agency in the city. This episode has been helpful in growing a cross-sectional network of support for alternative spaces. Recently, the alternative space organizers have began meeting to discuss better ways to advocate for and defend our art form. This week, we received word from the Police Department, and the city, that these allegations are exactly that: just allegations. We welcome any sort of follow-up from the LCLB or other agencies.
We have worked with these authorities for over two years and have an excellent relationship. We believe the city largely supports us, despite the difficult job the city has in terms of protecting events and business from unfair harassment while still looking into legitimate complaints. In light of these public smears, it has become very apparent how many artistic spaces lack protection.
We are vulnerable, as a community of artists, to be attacked. We are a new type of license, and we are still discovering our artistic and economic niche. We believe it is important that citizens engage with alternative spaces and join our mission for creative, personal and sexual expression. Our venue supports hundreds of small businesses; if each artist, group and musical act is a small local business, the effects have been to undermine the legitimacy of many entrepreneurs in the city. Many of the other artist-run event spaces shut down early the weekend the story broke. Several underground events were cancelled, as many spaces felt the heat was too great to proceed.
This is a saga that has been happening in the gay dance scene of Vancouver for decades. We can not let those who would seek to destroy our communities win. We must look past the hateful actions of one person, and begin to heal. With this in mind, Vancouver Art and Leisure plans to continue to provide spaces for artists and cultural organizers to present events to the public. We will always defend the rights of artists, and the public to creative, personal and sexual expression.