How Artscape Revitalized and Changed the Art Scene in Liberty Village

60 Atlantic: existing building, photo of principal east façade. Photo courtesy of urbantoronto.ca

Artscape is an organization that has been stationed in Liberty Village since 1991. Throughout the decades, it has been successful in bringing artists to the neighborhood and in promoting a healthy arts culture that continues to duplicate itself to this day.

Artscape in some sense of the word represents many of the residents of the neighborhood. The organization originally began as an advocate group that meant to fend off condo spaces in favor of allowing artists the opportunity to live in these areas. Originally having formed five years prior to establishing an office in Liberty Village, Artscape is a not-for-profit branch of the Toronto Arts Council. The Artscape logo can now be seen across the city in environments that have been protected for artists where they can go to create their work and live. The creativity theme in Liberty Village is there thanks in no part to Artscape who sought to build safe spaces for artists to live and develop.

Artscape can be held up as one of the few corporations In Toronto whose sole purpose is to build safe zones for artists. Its time in Liberty Village has provided nearly fifty studio spaces for painters, sculptors, musicians, new media artists, and assisting other not-for-profit arts groups set up shop in the neighborhood.

Looking at Liberty Village today compared to what it was pre-Artscape and it becomes obvious the difference. Artscape was one of the first to look at using under-utilized industrial buildings to supply to artists and art groups to develop Toronto’s creative arts sector. The success of Artscape in doing this, alongside the efforts of similar community groups, is what resulted in higher paying commercial tenants moving into the region alongside condo developments. Giving artists safe spaces where they can develop and influence each other’s work has contributed greatly into revitalizing Liberty Village, driving up its value significantly in the last three decades. Though Artscape has had to content with pressures from the City of Toronto and other groups that have threatened its funding, the organization has continued to find ways to reserve studio spaces for artists as well as to keep rents below market when needed in order to attract new artists to the area.

It is unfortunate but some of Artscape’s success, along with numerous other factors, is what has led to the City’s current issues of soaring rent and real estate pricing that will not quit. Creativity and reserving spaces for arts and culture has never been more important than it is today. Artscape continues to act in this notion, helping to accommodate tenants in alternative, safe spaces.

Now stationed in the Liberty Market building, the organization has lost a bit of its momentum in terms of its street cred in the neighborhood. The past decade has seen threats of it shutting down in Liberty Village and has seen difficulties in the excessive noise that these spaces sometimes contain, the continual rise in rents, and some public health problems that Artscape continues to attempt to manage.

Despite the possibility that it may one day have to find itself another location, for now Artscape has its home in Liberty Village and as it should. The organization is among the neighborhood’s proudest jewels and a representation of what arts and culture can do to a region when it is allowed to flourish. Would Liberty Village have been able to survive without it? Sure, but it is far better off with it. It is rather essential that Artscape exist and it should be supported for all of the amazing things that the organization continues to do not only in Liberty Village but in all of Toronto. Its portfolio has grown to buildings in over a half-dozen neighborhoods, leveraging community assets to further encourage artist development in the city.

Every neighborhood needs its own community culture hubs, access to art and theatre, and live/work spaces for artists and their families to enjoy. Artscape took a diamond in the rough and polished it like no other organization had done at that point in Liberty Village. All of the positives that the neighborhood is known for today are in part traceable to the efforts of Artscape and similar organizations who have been working in Liberty Village, constantly seeking new ways to improve it and to keep life interesting for all of us.

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