Artscape, which for over 30 years has developed and run spaces for artists to live, work and create in Toronto, announced on Monday, August 28 that it will be placed into receivership and end management of its facilities.
The news comes as a result of the not-for-profit organization’s struggles handling its debt load and other financial obligations.
In 14 projects across the city, Artscape offers 265 affordable residential units for artists and artist-led families, in addition to 125 spaces for commercial tenants. Artscape Daniels Launchpad, a creative entrepreneurship hub, serves 500 members, while Artscape Gibraltar Point, on the Toronto Islands, has welcomed thousands of artists since 1999 for residencies. Artscape also manages over 500 venue rentals each year in its facilities.
The announcement has stunned the arts and culture community in a city already dealing with a housing crisis and challenging living and working conditions for artists.
“I think I can speak for our whole collective – seven resident artists – and say that we’re all shocked and devastated by the news,” Tracey Norman, independent dance artist, said in an email. Norman is a resident artist with Intergalactic Arts Collective, a group of individual movement artists who lease space and share costs and administrative responsibility. The collective has been a commercial tenant of Artscape Youngplace since 2013.
In that time, Norman has made and rehearsed 13 dance pieces alongside many other artists who have benefited from the space.
“Unfortunately, we only learned of the news as everyone else was,” Norman explained. “At this point, we don’t actually know what is going to happen.”
Over the years, Artscape had taken on debt to expand its offerings and services, and the pandemic further strained the organization’s line of credit to maintain operations and meet debt payments.
To reduce and repay debt costs, the organization had planned to sell Artscape Daniels Launchpad, but progress to a sale wasn’t achieved in the timeline required.
In a statement, Artscape said that “While the receivership process will be disruptive to the operation of Artscape facilities, we are working hard with the City in an effort to have facilities remain operational.” The organization owns four of its properties, and the remaining are long-term lease agreements, often with the City of Toronto.
“The City, including Toronto City Council, has actively sought solutions to allow Artscape to avoid receivership,” the City of Toronto commented in an email. “For example, in July, City Council authorized staff to enter into an agreement that would guarantee a conditional line of credit for Artscape.”
“However, as Artscape’s financial situation continued to evolve, the lender sought to put additional conditions on the line of credit that extended beyond the scope approved by Council, and as such, the City was unable to provide the guarantee.”
Artscape was founded in 1986 to advocate for concerns about artists’ displacement from Toronto, and in the early ’90s, the organization began developing and managing its first properties, providing affordable studios.
But the major problem of affordability that Artscape’s creation was meant to address persists, and the loss of one of the city’s beacons of artistic placemaking only makes the situation more urgent.
The dwindling availability of professional dance spaces, in particular, is a known issue. In 2022, Artscape Distillery Studios, which housed Tapestry Opera and Dancemakers (and its studios available to rent), closed after its lease ended with no option to renew. Dovercourt House, which was home to dance companies CORPUS, princess productions and Kaeja d’Dance, closed in July 2021.
“The availability of spaces in the city is at an all-time low,” Norman said. “I’ve felt so privileged to have access to this space for a decade. Almost all of the affordable spaces I rented prior are no longer running.”
Artscape’s purpose ultimately evolved into that of a community developer, helping create the conditions – through artistic spaces – to connect and enliven local communities. “Being in a building with other artists and arts/community organizations has been the highlight of the opportunity,” Norman said. “Beyond that, we have an early years centre in our building and community arts for young adults, and a relationship with the community/neighbourhood which is reciprocal.”
“The placemaking has been real,” she continued. “While I can’t afford to live in that neighbourhood, it has become a part of me and a significant measure of reliability in my life as an independent artist.”
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