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East Vancouver hotel gets new lease on life as converted artist studios

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By Lisa Christiansen

Artists are welcome to work at the City Centre Motor Hotel for the next 2½ years

Artist Shehzar Abro looks out from his new room in the artist spaces at the City Centre Motor Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC – image credit)

The City Centre Motor Hotel is an oddity in East Vancouver.

Located on Main Street near Fifth Avenue, the brightly-coloured, lowrise motel was built in the 1950s. Recently sold to a developer, the site is now being given one last hurrah as studio space for local artists before the building is likely torn down to make way for condominiums.

The idea comes from the mind of David Duprey of The Narrow Group — a locally-owned East Vancouver group behind such area bars and restaurants as The Narrow and Uncle Abes. Duprey has also dedicated a lot of time to creating artist workspaces in empty buildings.

He began his quest to help artists about 15 years ago when he noticed a lot of sites where artists could carve out studios, even if only temporarily.

That’s how the City Centre Motor Hotel came to his attention.

“I saw an article that said the motel had been sold to Nicola Wealth Management. So I got on the phone and called them up and told them I wanted to turn them into artist’s spaces. And then that led to them calling me back and getting a lease,” Duprey explained.

David Duprey says he has been working for years to help artists find available space in empty Vancouver buildings. The City Centre Motor Hotel seemed to fit that bill perfectly. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For the next two-and-a-half years, at least, artists will be able to work — but not live — in the 70-room motel.

Right now, carpets are being ripped up and drapes taken down and once that’s complete, artists are free to do what they want in their workspaces.

Artist Shehzar Abro says he is thrilled to be able to have a place to work that isn’t his apartment.

The painter and animator will share the space with two other artists and pay $200 a month, he told CBC News, as he clutched his plastic room key in his hand.

From left to right: Artist Shehzar, David Duprey, the owner of the Narrow Group and Nickolas Collinet, the project manager of the Vancouver Mural Festival, stand outside of the new artist spaces at the City Centre Motor Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Honestly, when this space came about, it was a blessing. One of my biggest challenges was affordability. Vancouver is not a cheap city. And being a student, I’m only just now starting to make money from my art,” said Abro.

The Vancouver Mural Festival has also come on board to help with the project. It plans to wrap the entire motel in murals, right down to the sidewalk and also make it a meeting place.

“The exciting thing is the integration with the artistic transformation, with programming and with place-making. It’s all coming together in one exciting project,” said Nickolas Collinet, project manager of The Vancouver Mural Festival.

So far, the rooms aren’t all rented, but Duprey hopes to fill the vintage joint up and see it become an iconic space for a whole new reason.

Nickolas Collinet, the project manager of The Vancouver Mural Festival, outside of the 1950s-built motor hotel. The annual festival sees buildings in East Vancouver painted by local and international artists and the organizing group is planning to cover the entire building in art before it is torn down for development. (Ben Nelms/CBC)