Artscape Distillery Studio tenants face displacement after early lease termination

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Arts organizations including Nightwood Theater and Tapestry Opera say they are “deeply disappointed” they have been asked to move out of the historic Distillery District after nearly 20 years.

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Artists have been at the core of the district since it opened in 2003. After notices were sent to more than 70 artists and organizations that their below-market leases would expire at the end of March 2022 – five months, that community could lose its old home. Before the date of August 2022 on the original lease.

The organizations are housed in a building known as Artscape Distillery Studio. The space includes 10 retail studios, 20 office spaces, 3 rehearsal and performance spaces and 27 artist work studios


According to their website, Artscape is a Toronto non-profit organization that collaborates with artists, community leaders and public policy advocates to “empower artists and connect them to communities.”

Artscape provides space for artists in many disciplines such as: sculpture, woodworking, metal fabrication, opera, dance, painting, theatre, fashion and multidisciplinary arts.

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“By March 2022, and five months before the lease signed, the offices of Knightwood Theater will need to be vacated,” the arts organizations said in a statement. News release on Monday.

Meanwhile, ceramic artist Susan Card said in a phone interview that she’s still optimistic the 10 main floors retail business district might be able to live in.

“I’m still hopeful,” Card said.

Things are looking grim for studio space in the district.

“By August 2022, the offices of Tapestry Opera and The Ernest Balmer Studio will need to be evacuated,” said their joint news release. “This is despite a letter from Artscape in 2018 confirming a five-year tenancy for studio renovations and upgrades funded by a grant from the Trillium Foundation.”

Spadina-Fort York Councilor Joe Cressey said in a comment to the Star, “Arts and culture are not ‘good’ in our city. Rather, they are at the heart of the vibrancy and dynamism that make cities great.”

Cressy said he reached out to Artscape to “explore all options” in an effort to keep art and cultural groups within the distillery.

Opera and theater groups expressed pride in their achievements and pained their imminent loss.

“Tapestry Opera and Nightwood Theatre, along with Dancemakers, are seeking tenants for Artscape at the distillery,” Monday’s statement said. “We are proud of our contribution in establishing the distillery as a destination for artists and audiences, and as a place to create important Canadian works.”

The statement continues, “During our time at the distillery, both organizations have experienced unprecedented growth: dozens of Canadian world premieres, Juno nominations, and award-winning productions have toured nationally and internationally.” “The decision not to renew leases for long-term artistic tenants was made without consultation,” the statement claimed.

Michael Mori, artistic and general director of Tapestry Opera, mourned the loss of his group’s home.

“We were confident, given our significant impact on the culture of the distillery district, the art would continue to be home here,” Mori said in the statement.

“I see a thriving distillery including independent art in a beautiful way. It also offers commercial adventures like restaurants and festivals… so didn’t really have the opportunity to fight for our spot here, even though we’ve been there for a year. Trying for a long time, it was incredibly frustrating, and really disappointing.” Mori told Star.

When it comes to protecting the art and its culture within the city, Mori says the arts require protection from infrastructure and policy. “If we don’t have security, it will keep happening again and again,” Mori said.

Mori said, “In addressing this reality, we are faced with finding a new location in a city that has already closed many smaller venues and venue operators, allowing independent dance, theatre, The existence of music and opera is threatened.”

“We are saddened that the loss of another artistic space in Toronto will impact the many artists and arts organizations that rely on our affordable space,” Mori said. “We are also distressed by the return of live productions after nearly two years of COVID-19 disrupting our organizations’ season at this critical time.”

Nightwood Theater artistic director Andrea Donaldson said the distillery district as well as arts groups would suffer.

“Without the unique presence of the cast, the distillery would be a complete shambles, no substance,” Donaldson said in the statement. “While we are powerless in this situation, we hope that this gross example of cultural extraction presents a cautionary tale, and that Torontonians will begin to assert their will against the destruction of the cultural presence, the city we have come to see.” love the obsolete.

“A change in city policy may be the only thing that can really address the challenges for a sustainable arts scene in Toronto,” Donaldson said.

According to the statement, both Tapestry Opera and Nightwood Theater are in discussions with Artscape about alternate venues, but “nothing has been confirmed.”

The changes are a “tremendous loss to our Artscape community,” Artscape chief operating officer Kelly Rintoul said in an emailed statement.

That said, they are no surprise, Rintoul said.

“The end of our tenure at the distillery was a known reality in 2022 – a decision established 20 years ago when we originally entered into our below-market prime lease,” Rintoul said.

“The property owners indicated interest in terminating this lease a few months ago to advance plans for a French language school on the site,” Rintoul continued.

“To support tenants through this transition, Artscape explored 20 different properties as options, although after extensive tenant consultation, there was enough interest to support Artscape to head lease in a new building. Wasn’t.”

Rintoul said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit art groups hard, and that Artscape won $251,000 in rent for distillery tenants through the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.

“The loss of affordable commercial space in the city is a reality for artists and arts-based organizations across Toronto,” said Rintoul.

“Although there are small pockets of available space throughout the city, the ability to cluster tenants into one shape to build community – such as in a distillery – is critical,” Rintoul said. “It’s a dialogue that should continue with those involved in urban development, and it’s top of mind for Artscape as we plan for the future.”

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter who primarily covers crime for the Star. Reach him via email: [email protected] With files from Simran Singh and Dorcas Marfo.

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