COLLABORATION • EQUITY • ACCESSIBILITY • PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT • EDUCATION
A shared-space initiative of Vtape and four other non-profit arts organizations, The Commons @ 401 benefits each organization with appropriate office space and shared spaces for public presentations, workshops and meetings, receptions, and research. The partners in The Commons have been tenants in the same heritage building for over 20 years. Working alongside each other was already common practice, and this project is the next stage in our evolution as organizational collaborators.
FADO Performance Art Centre, imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre), Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and Vtape represent a real diversity of artistic disciplines, communities, and sectors within the arts working together. With the blessing of the building owners at 401 Richmond Ltd., in 2015 we began to talk about how we might, collectively, renovate the west end of the 4th floor at 401 Richmond Street West to make it better serve our organizations, the public, the communities we serve, and our neighbours and colleagues in the building. Forming a shared vision through a series of lively meetings, the five organizations were eventually able to make a concrete proposal to 401 Richmond Ltd., and to start looking for sources of funding for what would become the largest tenant-led renovation in the building’s history.
By early 2016, the five organizations were meeting regularly with architect Barry Isenor of Team Project to develop the floor plan for the 7,500-square-foot space, while 401 Richmond management worked on relocating some tenants who would be displaced by the project to other parts of the building. Consultant Jin Huh guided us through working out a governance and financial model, guided by principles of mutual respect, consensus decision-making, and maximizing equity for smaller organizations and those representing racialized communities. Renovations took place starting in late 2016, and were completed, with the finishing touches on our Research Centre, in June, 2018.
The Commons @ 401 received substantial financial support from the Department of Canadian Heritage, The City of Toronto, BMO Financial Group, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Cineplex Media, Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts, Salah Bachir & Jacob Yerex, and many individual community donors. Each of the partner organizations also contributed capital, and many hours of staff time, to realizing the project.
imagineNATIVE Festival industry event, 2017
Since moving into the new space, The Commons’ partner organizations have hosted innumerable cross-disciplinary events: screenings; exhibitions; performances; artists’ talks; workshops; media industry talks; networking events; portfolio reviews; and more. In addition, we have provided reasonably priced rental facilities to our colleagues at other arts organizations and non-profits ranging from Hot Docs and Rainbow Railroad to Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth, as well as providing space for exhibitions by independent artists and graduating students.
The Commons @ 401 resources include:
• an adaptable 720-ft.2 space with technical facilities for exhibitions, performances, screenings, talks, and other presentations;
• a multipurpose Education space for workshops, training, and incubators;
• Art Hub: an 800-ft.2 community hub by day, and an open, programmable event space by night.;
• Research Centre: a collection of publicly accessible publications, documentation, media artworks, and ephemera representing a diversity of disciplines and cultural communities, particularly media and visual arts, performance art, and work by Indigenous, Asian, South Asian & LGBTQI2S artists.
Vtape. Installation view, The Density of Dust, by naakita feldman-kiss (April – May, 2023)
FADO Performance Art Centre, A Score of Scores. Performance by Abedar Kamgari; score by Naseh Kamgari (May 20, 2023). Photo: Henry Chan.