Project Description

There are currently thousands of square feet of unoccupied commercial real estate across the city. At the same time, there is a shortage of affordable artist studio spaces combined with a mounting urgency and strong city policy direction to unlock solutions.

In response, Hessey collaborated with Vancouver Mural Festival on the multi-phase project formerly called Unleased: Temporary Artist Spaces. Phase 1 of this project took up the challenge of exploring how these underutilized spaces could be leveraged to provide immediate, short-term spaces for cultural production and exhibition, specifically for emerging and BIPOC artists, through a feasibility study.

The locations explored in this study are situated on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.

About the Vancouver Mural Festival

The Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to artistic and cultural development in Vancouver with the mission to create meaningful experiences that connect art and people. Through their signature festival, consultancy work, and other community collaborations, the VMF works to cultivate a city that values and encourages a vibrant and accessible arts and culture scene. Read their description of the Unleased project.

Project goal: Provide an understanding of the opportunities and roadblocks of using these underutilized spaces for short-term cultural production and exhibition.

This project is being undertaken in 3 phases:

  • Phase 1: Feasibility Study (This phase; Completed)
  • Phase 2: Pilot Projects (Renamed the VMF Residency Program; Completed)
  • Phase 3: Sustainable Annual Program (In progress)

As Lead Researcher, Matt Hessey worked closely with the Unleased project team to gather key insights for Phase 1. The team assembled and engaged key stakeholders including local artists, building owners, the City of Vancouver, and local neighbourhoods in dialogue sessions to understand the barriers and opportunities involved, to facilitate active community participation, and to ensure that the project’s direction reflected stakeholders’ true needs and desires.

Phase 1 of the project aimed to demonstrate the opportunity and value for stakeholders, identify major barriers and solutions, and propose a delivery pathway for Phases 2 and 3.


Adrian Sinclair, Vancouver Mural Festival
Germain Koh, Artist
Matthew Richter, Cultural Space Liaison, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture
David Duprey, Local Artist Studio Operator




Research + Proposal
Project Management