A Multitude of Multi-Purpose Arts Spaces

Illustration by Ricky King


Last May St. John’s city council approved their one-third share of $100,000—the rest coming from the provincial and the federal governments—to study the need and feasibility, and come up with a business plan for a new multi-purpose art space in the city. Based on the turn-out at a recent public ‘Supply & Demand Forum’ hosted by Sheppard Case Architects, the firm hired to do the study and planning, there’s a lot of demand.

A multi-purpose arts space could be any number of things. Is the skateboard park where kids rehearse and perform kickflips, share spoken word performances about one another’s mothers, and spray paint obscenities on the ramps a multi-purpose arts space? Well, kinda. But in terms of dedicated spaces for professional artists to create, rehearse, perform, and collate grant applications, what is there?

Morgan Murray did some digging and found a handful of national and local examples of a few kinds of multi-purpose arts spaces.

Banff Centre

Banff, Alberta
The Banff Centre is an arts mecca where artists of all disciplines flock to the picturesque Rocky Mountains to learn, create, and perform. It’s officially an Alberta non-degree granting post-secondary institution— it started as an off-shoot of the U of Alberta in the 1930s—and is funded (provincial government and fund-raising), and staffed (488 full-time equivalents last year) as such. Up to 5,000 people participate in their courses, programmes, and residencies each year, and over 75,000 people take in their events.

Art Central

Calgary, Alberta
Art Central is like an art mall located downtown Calgary. It is 50 galleries, studios, artist shops, and cafes under one roof. Like a mall, it is privately owned and renting a space is fairly pricey, nearly $16 per square foot per month (that’s like $1,600 per month for your puny bedroom). This limits it mostly to well-established, commercially successful artists and arts organizations. But the vibe of the building full of art and artists is a good one, it draws a heap of tourists, and the cafe has really good meat loaf.

Arts & Culture Centres

Across Newfoundland & Labrador
Can’t forget the Arts & Culture Centres… From coast-to-coast there are hundreds of publicly funded ACC-like centres. From small town community centres to big centres dedicated to performance and visual art, such as the Arts & Culture Centres across NL. The St. John’s ACC was, like a lot of similar centres across the country, built with provincial and federal funds to celebrate Canada’s 100th in 1967.

The Baird Building

Between Water Street & Harbour Drive on Clifts-Baird Cove, St. John’s
Formerly home to fish processors, sail makers, a department store, and almost everything else, this privately owned complex of ancient buildings, between Water Street and Harbour Drive on Clifts-Baird Cove, is now home to a pile of art galleries and studios, a jam space, formerly Wonderbolt Circus, and several businesses.
The Baird Building is definitely on the multipurpose arts centre radar. There have been a few attempts in the past to revamp the building, but nothing has gotten off the ground.
Most recently about three years ago, according to Michelle Bush, director of Baird Building tenant Eastern Edge Gallery (formerly a fish processing plant), “the Artist Infrastructure Committee was mandated by the Arts Advisory Committee to look into infrastructure needs for artists … we visited the whole Baird Building as a site to look at as a potential building to be renovated and turned into an awesome arts space with other types of tenants as well.”

Quidi Vidi Village Artisan Incubator

Quidi Vidi Village, St. John’s
The City of St. John’s, and their $1.1M, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA, aka The Feds), and their $1.5M, have partnered with the Craft Council and the Anna Templeton Centre to turn an old dilapidated fishing premises on the Quidi Vidi Gut into a multipurpose artisan incubator, the centerpiece of the city’s Quidi Vidi Village Development Plan. Up-and-coming artisans/crafters can lease affordable studio space in the building, as well as have access to the services of a full-time business/facility manager, artisan mentoring, retail space, and shared resources like photocopiers and coffee makers.