A life­line for An­nex artists

Dupont stu­dios host pho­tog­ra­phers and fash­ion­istas

Annex Post - - NEWS - by Jes­sica Wei

The land­scape is chang­ing on a for­merly in­dus­trial stretch of Dupont Street, be­tween Christie and Keele Streets. It’s an area that is in the process of un­der­go­ing largescale re­vi­tal­iza­tion and is the site of sev­eral fu­ture con­dos, with at least seven devel­op­ment pro­pos­als in the works. But as Dupont in­creas­ingly be­comes gen­tri­fied, a com­mu­nity of artists who called the street home are now fac­ing the prospect of hav­ing to re­lo­cate.

“As of two years ago or three years ago, on Dupont be­tween, say, Duf­ferin and Keele, there were a num­ber of [stu­dio] spa­ces,” said Oliver Pauk, co-di­rec­tor of an arts col­lec­tive called Akin.

Through Akin, Pauk and his part­ner Michael Vickers ne­go­ti­ate short-term lease agree­ments, known as “mean­while leases,” with de­vel­op­ers to rent stu­dio spa­ces as build­ings await de­mo­li­tion. Cur­rently, the team has eight stu­dios across the city, in­clud­ing two on Dupont.

One of these prop­er­ties is 888 Dupont St. It is a green and weath­ered four-storey in­dus­trial build­ing at Dupont and Oss­ing­ton Av­enue that was pur­chased by real es­tate devel­op­ment com­pany TAS around six months ago. At the time, it was in­hab­ited by a num­ber of il­le­gal res­i­dents, in­clud­ing artists who were us­ing the space as stu­dios, and one art gallery.

As part of the tran­si­tion pe­riod, TAS was able to ob­tain a spe­cial des­ig­na­tion as a “creative colo­ca­tion fa­cil­ity” from the City of Toronto to re­ceive a sig­nif­i­cant tax break for the stu­dio spa­ces. This al­lowed them to rent out stu­dio space to in­di­vid­u­als work­ing in the creative in­dus­try, for a min­i­mum of 30 per cent less than mar­ket value.

Be­fore sell­ing the build­ing to TAS, the pre­vi­ous build­ing owner had been fac­ing pres­sure from the city to evict the il­le­gal res­i­dents.

“[The build­ing at 888 Dupont St.] was be­ing used by artists, and, frankly, break­ing all sorts of by­laws,” said Sally Han, the act­ing di­rec­tor of arts and cul­ture ser­vices with the City of Toronto. “It was never zoned for res­i­den­tial, and there were a bunch of artists liv­ing there. That’s ac­tu­ally kind of dan­ger­ous.”

Af­ter TAS bought the prop­erty, the num­ber of artists work­ing in the build­ing in­creased from 10 to 30, pri­mar­ily pho­tog­ra­phers, fash­ion de­sign­ers and jewellers. Akin was also able to re­new their ex­ist­ing lease at 888 Dupont, for less rent than they pre­vi­ously paid. Re­cently, TAS also took in 10 artists from Wal­nut Stu­dios af­ter a fire dam­aged their down­town stu­dio space in May.

“Build­ing long-term re­la­tion­ships and cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact with the com­mu­nity, beyond the foot­print of our build­ings, is a pri­or­ity for TAS,” said Celia Smith, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of TAS.

“We own the re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing our prop­er­ties in­cor­po­rate af­ford­able workspaces that sup­port cre­ativ­ity and cul­ture.”

Artists and de­vel­op­ers haven’t al­ways en­joyed such a friendly re­la­tion­ship. Ac­cord­ing to Han, pre­serv­ing space for cul­tural in­dus­tries re­mains one of the key chal­lenges for the city and has been for the past 20 years, due to rapid devel­op­ment and an over­heated real es­tate mar­ket.

“I think that a lot of prop­erty devel­op­ment com­pa­nies can be in­sen­si­tive to com­mu­ni­ties and to the peo­ple liv­ing around the prop­er­ties that they own,” said Pauk. “I know that artists can be very sen­si­tive to that be­cause there is this his­tory of dis­place­ment over gen­er­a­tions.”

How­ever, the on­go­ing push to save stu­dio space has given de­vel­op­ers and artists the op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether and forge new re­la­tion­ships, as in­fra­struc­ture for the creative sec­tor in­creas­ingly be­comes in­te­grated into new pock­ets of the city.

“I would love to see the trans­la­tion of some­thing like mean­while leas­ing into ac­tual re­la­tion­ship build­ing, with the cul­tural com­mu­nity that uses their spa­ces, and for those de­vel­op­ers to re­al­ize that, in a city as ex­pen­sive as Toronto, con­tin­u­ing to cre­ate af­ford­able space for artists is a good thing over­all,” Han said.

Ac­cord­ing to Smith, a for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion for 888 Dupont St. will be sub­mit­ted to the city in 2019.

It wasn’t zoned for res­i­den­tial, and there were a bunch of artists liv­ing there. That’s kind of dan­ger­ous.”

L–R: Michael Vickers and Oliver Pauk from the Akin Col­lec­tive

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