Community Story

Vancouver’s Iconic City Centre Motel gets a Second Life as the City Centre Artist Lodge

January 16, 2023
Photo by Sabrina Miso, Vancouver Mural Festival

This story was submitted by the Vancouver Mural Festival, an independent, non-profit arts organization committed to artistic and cultural development in the city of Vancouver. They share an innovative model for using temporary space toward local placemaking efforts,  exploring how even short-term use can bring rich outcomes for the community. Thank you to the VMF and City Centre Artist Lodge for sharing their story!

By: Andrea Curtis, Vancouver Mural Festival

At the end of 2021, VMF (the team behind Vancouver Mural Festival) announced a new partnership with The Narrow Group (TNG), and Nicola Wealth Real Estate (NWRE) to transform Vancouver’s iconic City Centre Motel into a temporary art space: the City Centre Artist Lodge. 

The City Centre Artist Lodge exemplifies VMF’s placemaking vision, and takes it to the next level, combining a full site mural transformation, studio conversions, and live events—all in support of artists and community. The project is a model for arts-driven placemaking, showing how underused space can be reimagined and repurposed for community well-being. 

While the project is only temporary, since the site is slated for redevelopment, it utilizes a space that would otherwise sit empty and transforms a transitional space into a dynamic, much needed public space to connect the community. 

Photo by Sabrina Miso, Vancouver Mural Festival

As the first step in this temporary multi-year project, the former motel’s 75 rooms have been converted into low-cost artist studios by The Narrow Group. Next, we took over to completely transform the exterior (full building façade and parking lot) with our largest mural to-date, covering over 30,000 square feet and creating an immersive environment for art and social connection. Designed collaboratively by three local artists—Fiona Ackerman, KC Hall, and Joon Lee—the full-wrap mural combines the artists’ styles while taking inspiration from the iconic motel’s original elements. 

For the artists, the mural becomes a mirror of what the City Centre Artist Lodge aspires to be: a reflection on discovering each others’ working processes, being pushed in unexpected directions, and working alongside each other to shape this city.

Such a big project does not come without its issues. When painting an entire building, including the parking lot, every other aspect of the site needs to be addressed too: landscaping, signage, grip on the ground for pedestrians (safety), site lighting, site security, re-branding of the buildings and spaces, its digital footprint and social media assets, and more. Another challenge was gathering adequate input ideas from local residents and artists about our plan, because the opportunity to transform the site came quickly with less than a month’s warning. 

Photo by Gabriel Martins, Vancouver Mural Festival

A person who comes to mind when we think of the effect this project is having on the community is Mariana Rivera, who has set up a new gallery in the City Centre Artist Lodge’s lobby that will feature artists from the Lodge and the surrounding community. Mariana is an art and curatorial coordinator who, by weekend, seeks out local emerging artists and organizes pop-up exhibitions alongside an online gallery, known as The Art Shop. Mariana is finding a way to leverage the exposure City Centre Artist Lodge and Vancouver Mural Festival already provide, into even more opportunities for the artists to show and sell their work. After six pop-ups, she finally opened her own somewhat permanent showroom at the City Centre Artist Lodge. 

The City Centre Artist Lodge project turned the former City Centre motel into a low-cost accessible space for artists to produce artworks and open their studios to the public. The low cost of renting the units and the flexibility to start a creative business (with each unit having “frontage” and their own door to open to the outside) has created unique conditions for artists to chart their own course. The City Centre Artist Lodge is also the site for live community events, including serving as Vancouver Mural Festival’s Hub. An accessible outdoor event space is a critical part of the post-pandemic recovery. This placemaking project creates an immersive cultural hub, layered with interactions between art, people and place that nurtures a shared sense of belonging connected to Vancouver’s diverse creative communities. 

Photo by Gabriel Martins, Vancouver Mural Festival

It was important to bring people together after the extended social isolation that was endured by everyone during the pandemic. In one key way, the large open-air outdoor space was ideally suited to a post-pandemic situation as folks were physically and psychologically recovering. There was a big shift to outdoor social connections. 

Utilizing a privately-owned parking lot at a former motel filled up with 70+ artist studios and creative small businesses is a complicated experiment. We look forward to seeing the space animated more by different community groups and the artists themselves now that there have been some examples of what is possible there. 

More info on the project: . Follow them on Instagram: @vanmuralfest

Photo by Sabrina Miso, Vancouver Mural Festival

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