3 min

Interest lost in OUR Spaces

Group needs a long-range plan, Dutton says

The new board of OUR Spaces Society: Sakino Sepúlveda (vice president), Dianne Nhan secretary and treasurer), Richard Engelhardt (president), David Myers and Ron Pedersen (board members). Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

Reduced to just 12 members — nine of whom attended the April 15 annual general meeting (AGM) — the three-year-old society tasked with creating a new queer community centre in Vancouver is struggling to attract and maintain a critical mass of support.

In May 2011, OUR Spaces had 21 individual members plus two society members (Pride in Art and Screaming Weenie Productions) in good standing, down from 70 members in 2010.

Former treasurer and newly elected vice-president Sakino Sepúlveda noted that, as of April 15, the society is down to $300.97 in the bank.

“People have become complacent,” outgoing co-chair Laura McDiarmid said when asked about the apparent lack of momentum three years on. “There was a huge push, and we need that push again to make this happen, to let people know that we’re still here.”

She would like to see another community meeting like the standing-room-only gathering at Pulse (now Junction Pub) in July 2009 that led to the creation of OUR Spaces.

“If we can’t do this, then we’re just going to have to abandon it,” she warns. “If we don’t have everybody on board, then it’s just not going to happen.”

OUR Spaces’ new president, Richard Engelhardt, thinks a community consultation might be in order once the new board has had a chance to review what’s been done so far.

Engelhardt, 30, a former volunteer with Edmonton’s Pride Centre and a former constituency manager for an Alberta Liberal MLA, says the society’s focus should be raising capital, working with other organizations to host fundraisers and discussing what a community centre would look like to them.

New OUR Spaces member Ron Dutton, who runs BC’s gay and lesbian archives, would like the society to draft a long-range action plan, including an architectural rendering of the potential centre that’s “semi-concrete.”

Most people work best with a vision, he says. “The way I understand a building program is that you really need a relatively well-defined building. What is going to be contained in there, how many square feet you’re going to need, how many amenities, so that we can cost it out and therefore fundraisers know what it is they’re going after, and who might be good choices to fund that particular amenity, or get their name on a certain room.”

Once there’s a picture in people’s head, then you can get wealthy community members to contribute, he suggests.

“If it turns out that you get somebody else to build it for you, like a developer, then they need to know what it is they’re getting into before they can decide whether they want to partner,” Dutton adds.

Dutton’s point is one that has been raised repeatedly in different community forums.

Breakout groups at the July 2009 meeting came up with 26 elements the community would like to see in a new community centre. 

The following year, at a special general meeting, OUR Spaces presented a unanimously approved draft vision describing a physical space in which to “celebrate, support and enhance” Vancouver’s queer community “through arts, leisure recreation and services.”

McDiarmid recalled a strategic planning session that took place more than a year ago but said revisions are necessary because of the evolving real estate landscape.

“I will have to go through what has been done in the past, look at other non-profit shared space structures, and see what would work the best in Vancouver with the price of the real estate in the neighbourhood,” Engelhardt agrees.

David Myers and other members noted OUR Spaces suffered some setbacks last year, including the resignation of two members who had to be replaced.

In his secretary’s report, Engelhardt noted that work on a business plan had to be suspended because of last year’s municipal election, and four committees created at the May 2011 AGM — fundraising, political, locations and volunteer — were largely defunct. No reports of their activities were tabled, and the committees were dissolved by a vote at the April 15 AGM.

OUR Spaces now uses St Andrew’s Church at the corner of Burrard and Nelson streets for meetings that are open to the public and held on the first Monday of each month.