Shaw St. school to have new life as arts centre

The 97-year-old Shaw St. school that’s been vacant for the past 10 years in the Trinity-Bellwoods community is being renovated to re-open next fall as Downtown’s largest arts and cultural centre west of Spadina Ave.

It’ll be called Artscape YOUNGplace, named after the The Michael Young Family Foundation (MYFF) which is contributing $2 million toward the estimated $13 million it’ll cost to restore the building and make its 75,000 square feet ready for studios and community space.

The project is already being hailed as the flagship headquarters of Artscape which will move its 35 staff members into the building’s third floor from the organization’s current Liberty Village location.

“It will really be bustling with a dynamic mix of galleries, rehearsal space, producers, training organizations, artist studios, and some really cool spaces for young people,” Artscape President and CEO Tim Jones told a Nov. 2 reception in the school’s foyer to announce the plans.

Jones also announced the Toronto Dominion Bank is contributing $100,000 to the Artscape Foundation’s fundraising campaign. The centre will be in the West Queen West area, which Jones called “the home of Toronto’s contemporary art scene.”

Artscape’s ambition, he said, is to make the area “the Mecca of contemporary art in Canada.”

Among the centre’s many occupants will be Koffler Centre of the Arts, pianist Eve Egoyan, visual artist and theatre designer Gerard Gauci, Centre for Indigenous Theatre, College-Montrose Children’s Place, Paperhouse Studio, Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, and SKETCH.

Trinity-Spadina (Ward 19) councillor Mike Layton said the centre will bring benefits to West Queen West.

“You’re taking a building that has been rather derelict for several years since it closed (in 2001) and you’re flipping it into something that’s very beautiful for the neighbourhood … You’re also bringing people down here.”

The more people in the area the better it’ll be for local businesses, he said. “They’re going to be excited by the fact they’re going to get a new infusion of economic activity in the neighbourhood where there wasn’t any.”

Robert Sysak, executive director of the West Queen West BIA, told the Bulletin the centre will set an example for other Toronto neighbourhoods.

“Transforming (the school) into a destination of choice for art groups, artists, businesses and the community at large, sets a fantastic example for the rest of the city,” he said. “Diverse groups, working together with a common goal, can get incredible things accomplished.”

David Young, chair of MYFF named in honour of his late brother Michael, said Artscape’s venture with the old Shaw Street school “is an example of social enterprise solving a problem and creating something good, not just for the artists involved, but for us and our city.”

Artscape YOUNGplace will offer ownership and rental space for artists and not-for-profit groups at below-market rates, an arrangement it achieves by providing a 25 per cent no-interest, payment free second mortgage.

“Once this building is up and running it will support itself financially. It will be a real enterprise with a social outcome as a bottom line,” said Young.

As of early November the centre had sold or leased 43 of the 49 studios in the building.

The school, built in the Beaux-Arts style, has military history attached to it. During the First World War it was commandeered as a headquarters and barracks for Canadian infantry battalions.

Angela Ottolino, executive director of College-Montrose Children’s Place that will have space in the centre, told The Bulletin her organization needs to raise another $200,000 to reach the $500,000 it needs to become a tenant.

She called the building “inspirational … We’re going to be with artists, creative people. What could be more wonderful for children than to be influenced by creative people in this building?”