How are artists and cultural workers fairing in Ontario?
Groundstory Founder Jessa Agilo is delighted to have been invited to be a guest host on Ontario Trillium Foundation Knowledge Centre’s Thriving in Culture series to help explore this question within the urgent context of rapidly densifying and gentrifying artist enclaves across the province.
Over the coming weeks, she will be sharing an array of personal tales and confessions, community stories, tips, resources, values, case studies, practices, insights, unanswered questions and conundrums, emerging and future research and more that have served as a critical impetus for Phase 1 of Groundstory. Part 1 (of 6) follows.
Thank you to Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Collective Impact Fund and Canada Council for the Arts’ Sector Innovation and Development Program for their generous support of this challenging but gratifying work first initiated in 2018 and continuing throughout the winter, spring and summer of 2019.
CONFESSION #!: Flight + Fight
To help situate myself, I would like to start this series with a personal “gentrification confession” motivated by my own “groundstory” living and working in Toronto’s West Queen West.
In a rapidly gentrifying world:
- The scope and pace of change in my neighbourhood frightens + inspires me.
- The stories and responses to socioeconomic and spatial precarity in the arts in Toronto and across Ontario overwhelms + emboldens me.
- The complex and perplexing forces that appear to drive inequitable city-building the world over frustrates + fascinates me.
In these heartfelt, qualitative measures, my flight + fight responses are both alive and kicking. How about you? #flightfight
On the “flight” side, it is nigh impossible to not question what a single individual can possibly do to intervene against deepening spatial densification and gentrification without feeling discouraged, frightened, and overwhelmed by the sure size and scope of the problem. Does your “flight” response kick in (mine does) when you consider the tales of creators and producers of all kinds displaced from or struggling to thrive in traditional artist enclaves across downtown Toronto, including, to name only a few:
- Musicians, music venues, commercial arts studios, dance artists, theatre artists, designers, the mass exodus of independent cultural activity on Toronto’s Sterling Road after more than doubling of rents in anticipation of the arrival of MOCA, and so many more
- In my own community, the fallout of Urbancorp’s demise (the developer of many of the apartment buildings on my street, including my own) resulted in the building next door doubling rents in some cases from $1,650 to $3,300 per month in just three months. While Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan and Rental Fairness Act were adopted shortly after as a result, the upward pressure on rents, property taxes, and condo fees in my neighbourhood remains incredibly intense to this day. Along with Leslieville, West Queen West has been identified one of the most rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods in Toronto.
On the “fight” side, thankfully there are a growing number of successes and milestones from the arts community in my own neighbourhood to rally around; they inspire me and can hopefully encourage others to experiment and discover possibilities for new collective actions that capitalize on the strengths of our communities. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but only a few to chomp your teeth on:
- Active 18 has fought tirelessly for years for a more creative, inclusive, and equitable vision in urban planning in Toronto
- Build A Better Bloor Dufferin, a group of residents, businesses, community services, agencies, arts companies, and others responding to the sale of public land at Toronto’s Bloor-Dufferin for private development, including the Community Hub and Daycare Visioning Group
- Akin Collective, which is leading the way in offering affordable studios to artists through meanwhile leasing; listen to Episode 1 of Groundstory’s Round the Block Podcast for more
- Faith and the Common Good and others, including the work of Kendra Fry featured here on the Knowledge Centre, bringing together arts and faith-based organizations to strengthen at-risk community assets for common good; listen to Episode 2 of Groundstory’s Round the Block Podcast for more
- The powder keg of 401 Richmond was defused (at least for now) by a Creative Co-Location Facilities Property Tax Subclass Designation; critics argue, however, that a 50% tax credit doesn’t go far enough (67% preferred), and fails to support those that need it the most and yet appear to meet the spirit of the law (i.e., Mercer Union, Akin)
- Early literacy tools exploring intersections between gentrification and the arts, such as The Public Studio’s zine, Art, Design & Gentrification: A Primer
- Local artists from diverse backgrounds are beginning to create artistic works and/or collaborate with urban planning specialists to facilitate opportunities for others to share untold stories about a gentrified world, including, to name only a few: visual artist Hiba Abdallah, immersive performance artist Larisa Gutmanis’ The Parkdale Experience, photographer Lauren Kolyn with Andrew Winchur’s Vanishing Parkdale, author Jay Pitter, visual artist/educator Jennie Suddick with Sara Udow, young urban planner Cheryll Case’s Housing in Focus Project, and so many more.
In Part 2 later this month, I share my personal “gentrification confessions” related to Precarity + Privilege and extend our view outward to encompass other parts of Toronto, Hamilton, Peterborough, and beyond.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing any gentrification confessions and tales you might also be willing to share from your own neighbourhoods.