Pilot project could see DIY performances in vacant city buildings

As rental prices skyrocket downtown and high-profile music venues close, it’s becoming more difficult for emerging musical artists to afford spaces to create and perform, but now the city is designing a pilot project to provide spaces for musicians at low cost, or no cost.

Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York and chairs the Toronto Music Advisory Committee, says spaces for so-called Do It Yourself organizers are becoming rare.

“For a lot of musicians, you don’t start out playing at the Horseshoe Tavern or the Danforth Music Hall,” said Cressy.

“Everybody needs to get their start somewhere and that’s where DIY venues are so important.”

With space downtown at a premium as condominium projects replace entire blocks of once rentable rehearsal or performance venues, musicians are having a harder and harder time being able to access affordable DIY spaces.

“They’re just too expensive. And so if we lose the DIY spaces we lose the next generation of live musicians,” said Cressy.

Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee, has asked city staff to develop a pilot project that would allow DIY organizations access to city-owned properties at below market rates. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

On Thursday, Cressy’s committee approved staff recommendations to develop a pilot program for DIY music organizations to use city-owned spaces at lower than market value. 

“The city is one of the largest landowners. We have thousands of pieces of real estate, far too many of which are being underutilized,” Cressy said.

“And so the opportunity to provide a venue at a below market rents, where the insurance is covered by the city, for new and emerging artists to be able to create art and express art is just low hanging fruit,” said Cressy.

He suggested some city owned properties, such as the decommissioned subway station at Lower Bay or the Canada Malting Silos, could make for interesting musical performance venues.

“You know that the use of the Hearn [Generating Station] for the Luminato Festival demonstrates that not only can we do a better job of providing affordable and accessible spaces for DIY artists and musicians at large, but it also shows you that when you use a unusual or not expected performance space often it brings a whole other character and interest to the performance as well,” Cressy said.

But those who already run affordable DIY venues say they need support too.

Mark Wilson, the chair and treasurer of Array Music, approves of Cressy’s attempts to find more artistic space, but says existing places need to be nurtured.

Array Space at 155 Walnut Ave., west of Bathurst Street. and south of Richmond Street, is a second-floor warehouse venue that seats about 60 people comfortably and can be rented for as low as $25 an hour.

“We already host more than a couple hundred events a year in the DIY space. And I think what I am asking the city to do is also consider extending further support to existing DIY spaces,” said Wilson.

Array Music hosts hundreds of events in its industrial space at 155 Walnut Ave. The 1,200-square-foot space is well-equipped for rehearsals, performances, workshops and recordings. (supplied)

“I think they should also be looking at what additional support they can provide to the existing spaces as opposed to just inventing new infrastructure.”

Wilson says the space is not just used by up-and-coming experimental artists, but established performers.

“There’s lots of emerging artists. But … artists who are quite senior in their careers and perhaps are at the experimental edge of things are still looking for places to invent new work. And we offer them that opportunity.”

Staff with the Toronto Music Advisory Committee and Economic Development and Culture have conducted consultations with DIY music stakeholders, along with city staff in Corporate Real Estate Management.  

At the committee’s next meeting in May, staff will have an inventory of city-owned properties suitable for tenancy and develop the terms of a pilot program. 

Any pilot program would have to be approved by city council and could be launched in the fall.

Read more at CBC.ca