Isn’t it ironic, that when an art museum moves into the neighbourhood, the artists move out of it? Certainly, it is a sign that the rent is no longer feasible for a community of artists. Such is the case for the Sterling Road artist studios, a new condo project in Toronto’s West End.
For a long time Sterling Road was home to some of the most inventive and bohemian studio spaces in Toronto. Sandwiched inconspicuously between Nestle’s Chocolate factory in Dundas West, and a cardboard box manufacturer in Bloor West, this (almost) junction area accommodated industrial spaces, which was just rough around the edges enough to keep commercialization and gentrification at bay. Painters, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers, architects, an axe throwing club, and acrobatic circus school saw the opportunity to establish a multi-use space within the abandoned factory walls. This “do your own thing” vibe, in combination with affordable rent, created an artist’s utopic community, garnering a reputation as a welcoming space for artists to collaborate and produce their art with other like minded individuals. The Canadian rapper and producer Drake, in fact, recorded his first album in a studio within the Sterling Road studios, even using the old abandoned automotive building in his “Headlines” video. See below (explicit lyrics):
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Above: Sterling Road Automotive Building image (Toronto Star)
But the legacy of these art studios would be short lived. In June of last year, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art announced they would be setting up shop in the abandoned automotive on Sterling Road, the very same one captured in the Drake video. With the property secured, rents began to surge for the same artists who had cultivated the bohemian atmosphere that had increased the artistic cachet of the building in the first place. Unable to afford the brand new condominiums, or compete with the boutique businesses setting up shop, many artists are forced to abandon their studio space and community.
Above: Sterling Road Automotive Building (Toronto Star)
This is not the first story of gentrification affecting citizens, nor will it be the last. What makes this story different is the question as to whether the incoming museum is better for the city than the existing artist’s community. These are interesting times for the city of Toronto. When the artists move, certainly their grassroots spirit will go with them; but where will they go? We will be watching this transition closely, and report further news of the exodus of the city’s talented and resilient artists to other neighbourhoods.
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