The Skwachàys' Story
VNHS opened Skwachàys Lodge, the Urban Aboriginal Fair-Trade Gallery, and the Artists in Residence Program in June of 2012. The former Pender Hotel was transformed from a three-and-a-half-story derelict SRO hotel to a unique Indigenous social enterprise that combines a boutique hotel with a street-level art gallery, that supports on-site housing and studio space for 24 Indigenous artists.
VNHS identified the vulnerability of many urban Indigenous artists – artists in need of housing, artists who for various reasons are not able to properly represent and market themselves or their work. Often these artists are commercially exploited through a long established ‘street or underground’ market that takes advantage of their vulnerability. They try to live ‘off their work’ by selling on the street or in the bars or through the commercial dealer network that purchases original, gallery quality art for, at times, only five or ten cents on the dollar.
By creating a live/work supportive complex with a built-in gallery and community production space, VNHS took a lead role in addressing the social and economic inequities that Indigenous artists can face. The Artists in Residence Program is a unique and life-changing housing program for practicing Indigenous artists. The program includes very affordable housing in clean, unfurnished bachelor suites, 24/7 access to shared artist workshops, and participation in programming opportunities for personal and professional development that help artists develop their craft and move into the next phase of their careers. A 3-year residency in the program is dependent on successful program participation and the achievement of self-defined career goals. Emerging, mid-career, and senior artists are welcome to apply. To date we have had over 110 Indigenous artists complete the program.
The Lodge, the Urban Aboriginal Fair-Trade Gallery and production space are operated as a self-sustaining social enterprise. Artists are paid a fair price for their work. The model follows the established practices found in the art world. Generally an artist receives between 30%-60% of the retail price depending on the artist’s reputation and the cost that is underwritten by the gallery (framing, marketing and promotional expenses.) In short, when a guest spends their overnight travel dollars at the Skwachàys Lodge there is a social impact – people are housed. When a guest, a member of the community or a company purchases authentic Indigenous art at the Fair Trade Gallery, there is a social impact – a simple purchase fights cultural misappropriation and ensures that Indigenous artists are paid fairly for their work. Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism sector and there is absolutely a place for our urban Indigenous artists to participate in this industry as a means of reclaiming their lives and independence.