East Vancouver’s WISE Hall gets massive financial lifeline

John Kurucz - Vancouver Courier


Built in 1926, the WISE Hall is undergoing the most extensive renovation in the venue’s history. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A five-figure cash infusion from Creative BC has management at the WISE Hall doing the do-si-do.

The venerable East Side music and arts space received more than $90,000 in grant money from the provincial arts agency in September. That money is being used as part of an ongoing renovation effort that will wrap up by February 2018.

The WISE (an acronym for Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English, dating back to the days when it a social club for immigrants) has received two grants in the past five years, though the recent financial pick-me-up represents the largest renovation project in the venue’s 92-year history.

“As a not-for-profit, we’ve had stuff donated and we’ve purchased where we can, but this allows us to move into a place where we have good gear that has some longevity and can carry us through the next decade,” said WISE Hall manager Jasmine Liddell.

The lengthy to-do list includes re-surfacing the stage, bringing in new lighting, soundproofing and curtains and an entirely new sound system to replace the piecemeal setup that’s been used for years. The sound board is also being moved from the balcony area down onto the floor.

The WISE’s last reno project happened in 2013, when a crowdfunding campaign raised $11,000 for soundproofing materials in response to noise complaints. A year before that, more than $70,000 in matching funds from the city went towards structural upgrades, bathroom renovations and fixing the roof.

Those figures may give the impression of a comfortable financial footing, but the hall’s assessed value has jumped by 43 per cent since 2012. This year’s property tax bill rang in at $5,600.

“Most of our bills are actually going towards keeping the building open,” Liddell said.

Located at Adanac Street and Victoria Drive, the WISE Hall has hosted the likes of SNFU, Sal Ferreras, Neko Case and the Odds. Its staff and board includes numerous members of the Vancouver music and arts scene, including former DOA and Subhumans drummer Jon Card, promoter Wendy13 and sound techs who’ve worked multiple venues across the city.

The WISE’s identity has changed on an ongoing basis since 2014. At that time, the decision was made to shift away from being solely a rental hall to offering more homegrown music, arts and culture. Hundreds of gigs, burlesque and theatre shows, multi-disciplinary performances and fundraisers have happened since, along with a name change from “Social & Athletics Club” to “Social & Community Arts Club.”

Part of that change includes opening up the downstairs lounge to live music and entertainment. To that end, Vancouver folk group The Tired Sunday Choir is performing every Sunday night as part of a month-long residency from Nov. 5 to 26. The first gig on the docket includes a guest spot from Elliot Christopher Way and the show gets underway at 8 p.m. Event details are online at www.facebook.com/events/262140404308549.


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