Pushing the pace to create art space

The motion I’m putting before council Tuesday to make 10,000 square feet of city space available to artists or cultural groups won’t do much in itself to solve one of the biggest problems facing the arts community, but it could reveal the best strategy to tackle the problem.

A dire shortage of affordable space for studio work or performance is hobbling the growth of the city’s cultural community. The pilot program proposed in the motion will use city property that is currently vacant to generate some modest additional revenue for taxpayers while assessing various strategies to find more space, ideally in the private sector.

Toronto’s Artscape is a large non-profit that works to identify and open up new space right across the Greater Toronto region. A similar organization could do vital work here.

Councillor Heather Deal has been pushing hard on the arts front for the past three years and a package of bylaw changes to ease the use of industrial space by artists is coming to council in the next couple of months.

But the overall picture is one of feast and famine. Cultural space generated by community amenity charges is sitting empty in some cases — like the CBC building — because leasehold improvements or monthly charges are too high for many organizations. At the other end of the scale, cheap but illegal spaces face closure because landlords delay basic repairs, even for life and safety.

A new strategy is needed. The 10,000 square foot trial — done in conjunction with the Park Board, where Sarah Blyth has led the opening of field houses for cultural uses, and the school board, where Green Thumb Theatre is fundraising to move into heritage space at Guy Carleton School — should open up some options.