A condo building with room for creatives – in the heart of the city. That’s the promise of a new centre run by the non-profit group Artscape, which opens its doors this week.
The initiative, dubbed Artscape Daniels Launchpad, occupies 30,000 square feet in a new office condominium building on Toronto’s central waterfront. It’s part of a larger complex being marketed as Daniels City of the Arts, which includes a pair of taller residential towers.
And the $30-million centre could be an important precedent for new urban development: It optimistically proposes a friendly relationship between culture and capital, in which developers, artists and makers all benefit from working together.
Launchpad “is inspired by many things,” says Tim Jones, the quiet but dynamic CEO of Artscape. “It’s inspired by maker spaces, by WeWork, by the Centre for Social Innovation and by Soho House.” To translate, Launchpad aims to help creators with production, promotion, business development and also give them a place to socialize. And all this on the waterfront in downtown Toronto, with epic lake views.
This waterfront area, once quite empty, is now being rebuilt as a very dense, largely residential crowd of towers. It will need all the creative energy it can get. And this is where Artscape’s “creative placemaking” comes in. Jones says: “We believe there’s a model of urban development in which everyone wins.”
The centre, with a complex interior designed by Quadrangle, is in part a workspace. In December, the facility will open a production facility for audio, video and photography. For now it has a 6,000-square-foot event space, and high-quality facilities and equipment for textiles and fashion; fine metals and jewellery; woodworking; electronics and digital fabrication. Members, having paid very affordable membership fees starting from $50, have access to it all.
On a tour Monday, staff showed off their arsenal, including a vulcanizer and laser welder in the jewellery studio and, in the textile studio, a sophisticated Norwegian jacquard loom. “It’s exceptionally rare to have all of these resources together in one space,” said Helen Weston, the lead studio technician for textiles and fashion. “Students might have access to such equipment at university, but after they graduate, it becomes very difficult.”
Along with equipment, camaraderie is also important, said the artist and writer Ani Castillo, who has taken an Artscape’s professional development class. “If you make a healthy community,” Castillo said, “I think the art gets better.” To that end, the Launchpad centre includes a lounge and co-working space.
The tenants here are perhaps less likely to be fine artists – whom Artscape accommodates in residential and live-work spaces across the city. Launchpad shares space in the building with OCAD University’s Business Innovation Studio, and a string of creative enterprises. The crossover between art, design and business is not accidental. Artscape is “a mediator,” Jones says, between risk-averse business people and the uncertainty of the art world.
And what does the place feel like? Well, there is something unmistakably weird about seeing newly constructed, high-ceilinged, brightly lit spaces devoted to textile-making and woodworking. But in a world where old loft spaces now house rich tech companies, this makes a certain sense. And Launchpad is well-located, well-appointed and well-lit. Surely it will be a good place for any sort of work.
What it lacks, to some degree, is soul. Thoughtful interior design, by Quadrangle, leavens the standard commercial construction details of the building – poured concrete slabs and exposed mechanical services – with some clever dashes of colour and texture. There are breakout rooms lined with hot blue and orange textiles, and a meeting room lined with a salvaged gym floor. Still. “This is a brand-new building, and it’s squeaky clean,” acknowledges interior designer Tor McGlade of Quadrangle. “We’ve tried to moderate that, but we realize that in the end, the makers will make the space interesting.” With luck, they’ll do that for the neighbourhood, too.