- "This is an attack on alternative, artist-run event spaces and their right to program and participate in culture," says Backdoor organizer Matt Troy.
Vancouver Art & Leisure has been the target of a private investigation ordered by local nightclub operator Bijan Ahmadian.
The VAL, a licensed arts space in East Vancouver, regularly holds art parties, dance events and queer gatherings, including Backdoor, a gay event series organized by venue operator Matt Troy.
This year's Halloween Backdoor on October 30th was subject to a private investigation, wherein two employees of DIG Investigations & Security, armed with hidden cameras, took pictures of what they alleged to be public sex acts, open drug use and the over-pouring of drinks. (In BC, drink pours must be measured every time, and there are limits on how much can be served at once.) A sign posted at the party (and documented by investigators) says "no photography whatsoever. Sex & kink play OK. Be respectful. Give people space if playing. Don't intrude. No uninvited touching."
The investigators also claim to have counted almost 500 people at the event when the venue had a legal capacity of 150, according to CTV. A police inspection of VAL shortly after 3 AM that night, however, only recorded "20 or 30 people" at the venue, The Province reports.
Bijan Ahmadian, owner of The Odyssey, a gay nightclub in Downtown Vancouver, has admitted to organizing the investigation himself. In a Facebook statement, Ahmadian says he ordered the inquiry because he had "heard repeated grave safety concerns from some of our artists and queer community members about Backdoor, and it didn't seem like law enforcement had enough resources to investigate."
VAL has arguably become the face of Vancouver's recently-introduced arts event licenses. The new concept was launched in 2013 in an attempt to make it easier for artists to host events in unconventional venues in Vancouver, which has long been dubbed the "no fun city" for its once-strict rules around nightlife. Troy says he has been—and will continue—working with city officials to make sure events at VAL are in line with regulations.
Though The Province claims the BC Liquor Control & Licensing Branch has said they are "looking into" the event from October 30th, Troy tells RA he has not yet been contacted by anyone at the branch. The venue will remain open for the foreseeable future for its allotted number of events—three per month.
In a statement given to Xtra West, Troy called the investigation "an attack on alternative, artist run event spaces and the right to program and participate in culture," and "an attack (and infringement of privacy) on the morality of gay men, queer spaces and queer events."
"There may be establishment forces at play that seek to restrict the public's access to art and culture events and [they] may use this unsolicited anonymous complaint to their political and economic advantage," he added. "Seeking to shut down Backdoor, and by extension VAL as a whole, is seeking to shut down the many small and medium-sized artistic ventures we foster."