Artscape Youngplace

180 Shaw Street, Toronto, ON


2015 Heritage Toronto Awards, Honourable Mention

ArtsBuild Ontario is dedicated to realizing long-term solutions to building, managing and financing the sustainable arts facilities needed in Ontario’s communities


Artscape Youngplace is a 75,000 square foot, $19 million transformation of a designated heritage school building into a dynamic community cultural hub devoted to artistic inspiration, learning, growth and expression. It is the largest building in Artscape’s portfolio and is the largest cultural institution in Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood. After an extensive community engagement and consultation process, and a major renovation, Artscape Youngplace opened to the public in November 2013.

Located on Shaw Street in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, this repurposed school building is home to over 30 artists and organizational tenants representing a vibrant mix of art forms and cultural mandates. Former classrooms, library, gymnasium and office spaces have been thoughtfully transformed into creative production, rehearsal, exhibition and administrative space for 10 not-for-profits, 20 individual artists and one socially-minded retail business.

Every day the hub comes to life through diverse practices, programs and events serving the interests and needs of the surrounding community. West Queen West is one of the country’s most creative, with over three hundred galleries, shops, design firms, boutique hotels and restaurants. Artscape Youngplace nurtures creation, learning and collaboration through innovative programs, experiences and events in an inspiring, social environment in order to strengthen and grow our community.

Named in recognition of a generous lead gift from The Michael Young Family Foundation and
established as a commercial condominium, Artscape Youngplace is a model that anchors affordable, accessible creative space in the heart of this community.

The Place

Prior to the 1600s the land mass that is now Ontario, Quebec & New York state was considered the Erie Netural Territories and was shared by many differed groups including the Haudenosaunee (also known as Iroquois). The Mississaugas of the Credit River settled on these south-west shores of Lake Ontario after European contact in the 1700s. Pressured by hardships experienced by most First Nations through European colonization, the Mississaugas of the Credit River sold a tract of land to the British for a settlement that eventually became the city of Toronto. The site now known as the city of Toronto was a traditional gathering place, where people convened to exchange goods, share stories and practice ceremony among other things. We honour this land and our ancestors by working together and sharing stores through friendship and the arts.

Formerly the Shaw Street Public School, Artscape Youngplace is located within Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, and a short walk to West Queen West, Beaconsfield Village and Little Italy. With 5.5% of its labour force in arts occupations, West Queen West has one of the highest concentrations of artists by neighbourhood in Canada.  The neighbourhood is recognized as one of Canada’s noteworthy neighbourhoods for artists and creative workers, who live and work in the area and contribute to the dense concentration of cultural venues and lifestyle businesses located in the community. West Queen West is home to three other Artscape projects, including: Artscape West Queen West, the city’s first legally zoned artist live/work space, which played a key role in catalyzing the development of Queen Street West as a major centre for contemporary arts; Parkdale Arts & Cultural Centre, a community cultural hub; and Artscape Triangle Lofts, an innovative below-market ownership and rental artist live/work space.

Trinity Bellwoods Park hosts numerous cultural events, including the Queen West Arts Crawl founded by Artscape, the Trinity Community Recreation Centre’s Art in the Park program, as well as outdoor theatre, concerts and films. The artistic ethos of the broader community is reflected in the strong arts education program at neighbouring Givins/Shaw Junior Public School, which includes a focus on music, drama, dance and visual arts.

While a vibrant centre of creative and cultural activity, West Queen West has undergone significant change over the past two decades. Through the 1990s the area became central to the Toronto arts scene; many galleries, artist studios and live/work spaces were located in and around Queen Street West, between Shaw Street and Dufferin Avenue. More recently, the pace of up-market residential redevelopment has challenged the affordability and diversity of the community’s cultural organizations and individual artists who were often working in former industrial spaces in the Queen West Triangle and storefronts along Queen Street West. A number of galleries have moved to more affordable space in neighbourhoods further from the downtown core.

The disruption and displacement of artist workspace in the Queen West Triangle by extensive condominium development, and the closures of small performance venues along Queen Street West signaled a growing imperative to address space needs for this important creative community. Artscape saw the potential of the shuttered Shaw Street School to anchor arts and cultural space at the heart of the neighbourhood in a time of rapid change. Working with the community, Artscape sought a model that would be sustainable over the long term.

The Space

Artscape Youngplace is a 75,000 square foot, three-storey, brick and stone-clad building located on the west side of Shaw Street between Queen Street West to the south and Dundas Street West to the north. Built in 1914, the Shaw Street School replaced earlier, smaller schools on or near the site, including a one-room school house known as the Western Auxiliary School (1848), a two-roomed school named the Givins School (1860), followed by a two-storey four-room school (1876), which was in use for almost four decades before the Shaw Street School was built.

The current school building at 180 Shaw Street was erected in 1914 under the direction and supervision of C.H. Bishop, an architect and Superintendent of Buildings for the Toronto Board of Education. The original plans for the school show an armoury and domestic instruction room on the second floor and medical inspection and manual training rooms on the third floor. All of these rooms eventually assumed other purposes, yet they speak volumes about the education offered in the school building during the period.

Following the 1998 announcement that it was slated for possible closure, the Shaw Street School was included in the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties, for architectural reasons. The recommendation emphasized the building’s large scale axial planning that was popular in school architecture around the time of the First World War, as well as the school’s Classical detailing. The building features parapets along the flat roof, band courses, cornices, spandrels with laurel wreaths and swag motifs, moulded dour surrounds with bracketed entablatures and decorated pediments, and ionic columns on the façade. The exterior of the building remains intact and preserved today.

With main access through a central entrance on the T-shaped plan, leading up a half-level to a lobby, the building contained 28 classrooms, wide corridors, a generous lobby, an office area and main floor library. Originally, an expansive, skylight-covered central stair connected the lobby to the second and third floors. In response to Ontario Building Code requirements, however, the central stair was filled in many years ago, although one section remains, connecting the lobby to a central landing. Exit stairwells are located at the north and south ends of the central corridor. With the exception of the alteration to the central stairwell and the creation of new library and office space in the 1980s, much of the building’s plan remains unchanged from the original layout.

The Situation

In its 86 years of operation the Shaw Street School was the central anchor of the neighbourhood, bringing together students and their families for classes, community meetings, sports events and social gatherings.

During the First World War the building served as the Canadian barracks and headquarters for the 123rd and 20th battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Air Force. For a time, both students and soldiers would cross paths on the grounds. During the Second World War, the alumni associations prepared care packages and students contributed to Red Cross Activities to support the war effort.

During the 1950s, ‘60s and 70’s sports were integrated into school life and highly valued at by the community.  Relay teams would practice in the school corridors and sports events were held during school days, often at nearby parks like Trinity Bellwoods and Christie Pitts.

The history of arts education began humbly at the school with drawing classes starting in 1875[1] and home economics classes around the turn of the century. Early signs of the school’s later strength in the arts appeared in 1965 when the school mounted a theatre production of Macbeth.

The 1990s saw a surge in arts activity through teaching methods and musical and drama productions in the school, which drew substantial community support. At the same time the neighbourhood underwent demographic shifts and the school saw declining student enrollment; this lead to the school being declared surplus in 1998 followed by its closure in 2000. In response to substantial efforts in the community, the Toronto District Schoolboard transferred operations to the neighbouring Givins-Shaw Junior Public School (c. 1957), a smaller, more modern building. To this day, Givins-Shaw offers kindergarten to grade 6, and school life includes expanded art and music experiences, greening initiatives, and athletics with support from parent volunteers.

After the Shaw Street School closed, neighbours remained engaged with the space, organizing various community-oriented events including haunted houses on Halloween, yard sales and bike swaps. The building continued to have a connection to the arts; the grounds and the building were used for many films and music videos, including the Hollywood movie Mean Girls and The Yard, and HBO miniseries about school life; in 2010 the entire school was the site of an art exhibition, Art School Dismissed. During this period the Toronto District School Board circulated calls for lease proposals for the surplus properties in 1999 and 2001, but due to the condition of the building and its historical listing, received no expressions of interest.  Apart from occasional community activity and short term leases to the film industry, the school remained largely vacant.

As a long-established, community-based facility, the closure of the Shaw Street School represented a significant fraying of the neighbourhood’s rich connective fabric, community roots having been so intertwined with the school’s history. The immediate adjacency to the active Givins-Shaw Junior Public School, however, underlined the potential for the community to establish a strong shared vision for the adaptive reuse of the former Shaw Street School, which was still located in the functioning heart of the neighbourhood.

The Vision

Community Consultation
In 2006 the Toronto District School Board hired Artscape to conduct a Preliminary Feasibility Study to assess the viability of repurposing the Shaw Building for a range of community and cultural uses. Artscape worked with the Toronto District School Board, local residents, arts community stakeholders and the Ward 19 City Councillor to envision what new role the Shaw Street School building might play in the neighbourhood if reimagined.

Three focus groups and two public open houses held between 2006 and 2007 made up a large part of this consultation phase, including the Givins Shaw Parent School Council, interested arts and cultural organizations from across Toronto and local community members. In these focus groups, participants discussed their perceptions of priorities, opportunities, challenges and concerns with the building’s potential re-purposing. This process led to the articulation of several common themes:

The re-developed Shaw Street School will be a place where:

  • A passion for learning is fueled by arts and culture
  • Ideas are cultivated through commitment to openness, diversity and tolerance
  • Connectivity is fostered through a strong sense of community interaction
  • Environmental stewardship is encouraged through innovative design and operations
  • Identity is reflective of the Queen West artistic ethos

These characteristics will be nurtured through a program of spaces that:

  • Facilitates collaboration, experimentation and cross-pollination
  • Respects and enhances the heritage integrity of the building
  • Are shared, safe, accessible and inspiring
  • Respects the flexibility required for the creative process
  • Generates opportunities for community engagement

Artscape proposed the Founding Vision for the Shaw Street Centre based on the shared themes.

The study process demonstrated strong community support for re-purposing the site as a community cultural hub and the broader community expressed their support to have Artscape coordinate this effort. Through the process Artscape balanced diverse stakeholder perspectives, while developing a viable and engaging vision to bring together cultural assets, heritage preservation, environmental leadership, educational programming and community partnerships in a unique way to transform the Shaw building into a dynamic hub of creative activity and learning.

This vision needed to attract public interest and investment, and be a not-for-profit model that would support a quadruple bottom-line to bring positive cultural, economic, environmental and social impacts. The goal of the project was to balance the needs of the arts community with the needs of the local community to achieve a shared vision.

Read the Preliminary Feasibility Study

The Plan

The vision for redeveloping the Shaw Street School included plans for rental artist studios, as well as not-for-profit arts and community organizational spaces ranging in size from 400 to 4,500 square feet on four floors. Proposed uses included work studios, as well as exhibition, education, programming and administrative spaces.

For the project to proceed, it was necessary to make applications to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law, as well as to sever the property. The amendments were required in order to permit the proposed arts and community uses, as well as small-scale retail, service and office uses, in an area primarily designated for residential uses. A severance was necessary to create a separate lot, as the Shaw Street Public School originally shared a site with the Givins-Shaw Public School. In August 2010, the Zoning and Official Plan amendments for the property passed at Toronto City Council, and the consent to sever was granted at the Committee of Adjustment. In December 2010, Artscape concluded its purchase of the Shaw Street School from the TDSB and the Toronto Lands Corporation.

A Community Advisory Committee was formed and included representatives from the Artscape Board of Directors, the local residential neighbourhood, the greater West Queen West community, Artscape tenants and the Toronto arts community at large. The Advisory Committee helped to inform the design and vision of Artscape Youngplace, assisted in selecting the purchasers and tenants, and participated in sharing information with the community on the Centre’s progress.

In February 2010, Artscape issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) to assess the interest and needs of artists and not-for-profit arts and community organizations who were interested in sales or rental opportunities at Artscape Youngplace. The Request for Expressions of Interest process generated over 80 qualified submissions, and assisted Artscape in honing the vision of Artscape Youngplace, finalizing the sales and rental parameters and confirming the studio sizes. View the REOI

In June 2010, Artscape issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for sales and tenanting opportunities in the facility. A limited number of units were made available for sale to artists and not-for-profit arts and community organizations for non-residential use. Proposals to purchase studios were received from 16 artists. In addition, 28 artists submitted proposals to rent studio space. Proposals to rent were received from 22 arts and community organizations.  View the RFP

In December 2010, with a $2 million lead gift from The Michael Young Family Foundation, Artscape purchased the property, taking the first step towards saving an important piece of Toronto’s architectural heritage and making the community’s vision for its future a reality.

The Design / Build

Teeple Architects completed a Facility Condition Assessment in 2000 as part of the initial consolidation of the school program into the Givins-Shaw building in 1999-2001. Based on a series of thorough site inspections undertaken in 2006 and 2009, and due to the fact the building was heated and maintained by the TDSB for the tenure of its closure, the condition of the building had not significantly changed during its period of inactivity.

While the existing building met the majority of Ontario Building Code requirements for the proposed uses, a number of renovations were required to fulfill Code requirements that the structure did not meet, and additional improvements and upgrades were undertaken to provide flexibility for the range of uses that could be anticipated.

The renovation comprised of the following changes and updates to the structure:

  • Upgrading all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems
  • Installing a new roof
  • Substantial structure reinforcements
  • Removal of asbestos floor tile in all classrooms
  • The addition of loading spaces to the north of the building
  • Replacing all windows with new double-paned, wood-frame windows conforming to heritage standards
  • Installing new glazed wood doors and frames for new units
  • Exterior stonework stabilization and repair to the sandstone
  • Addressing accessibility with the construction of an exterior ramp, wheelchair lift and new hydraulic elevator
  • Landscaping and bike shelter

The adaptive reuse of the building incorporates studio spaces and public spaces. Through the renovation Artscape created a building that will be energy efficient and updated to today’s standards. The studio spaces include long-term studio rentals, short-term space rentals and full ownership studios. Many of the former classrooms have been renovated as these studio spaces.

An important aspect of the school’s redesign involved repurposing the common areas of the building – almost 25,000 square feet of hallways and stairwells – as exhibition and gathering spaces, making use of the large amount of space that was not saleable or rentable due to fire egress and circulation needs. The public spaces in the building include the Hallway Galleries, the Urban Living Lounge and Coffee Public.

With over 9,350 square feet of space, the Hallway Galleries occupy the hallways and stairwells on the second and third floors of Artscape Youngplace. These high-traffic exhibition areas are frequented by artists, cultural workers and the community, and feature purpose-built exhibition space with prepared surfaces, track lighting and dedicated power.

Artscape manages the Hallway Galleries with input from a Curatorial Advisory composed of owners, tenants, as well as representatives from the local neighbourhood and the Toronto arts community. This committee recommends programming policy and assists staff with the solicitation, review and selection of programming for the galleries and common spaces. The Hallway Galleries are open seven days a week.

Find Out What’s On in the Galleries

The main floor corridor was transformed into the Urban Living Lounge and the centre stair mezzanine is now home to Coffee Public. The Urban Living Lounge has become a lively community asset since opening the building. This public space at the heart of the community hub was made possible through a gift to the West Queen West neighbourhood from a partnership of six Toronto development industry leaders committed to ensuring that a vibrant arts scene remains central to the neighbourhood as it changes and grows. The lounge was designed by WilliamsCraig Inc., a design studio rooted in the West Queen West neighbourhood, in collaboration with a network of local industrial designers, artisans and suppliers.

Situated at the heart of the building next to the Urban Living Lounge, Coffee Public has a great view of Shaw Street and chooses to work with like-minded small businesses to provide fresh and fantastic food and drink – a café with a community mindset. The café is open to the public and offers a warm space for tenants, owners, residents or visitors to take a break and enjoy Artscape Youngplace.

Check Out the Urban Living Lounge and Coffee Public


Governance and Management
“One of the innovations of this particular project is that we are setting it up as a commercial condominium – there is no residential in this – we share ownership with other artists and local community organizations that have purchased a portion of the space; it’s an interesting equity model for funding a project like this.”  – Celia Smith, President, Artscape

Artscape Youngplace reflects Artscape’s goals and values for new community development and creative city building, as well as the expressed desires and priorities of local stakeholders and community members. It has been established as a non-residential condominium corporation with a governing board that represents the owners, including Artscape. Units were sold to qualified applicants at market price, and at market price less a 25%, no-interest, no-payment second mortgage held by Artscape. Long term affordability was secured through the second mortgage and a shared appreciation program. When an owner wishes to sell their unit, it must be sold through Artscape to another artist or not-for-profit arts or community organization. Artscape retains first right to purchase and manages the process of reselling below-market units to ensure the space remains affordable relative to the local real estate market for artists and not-for-profit arts and community organizations, in perpetuity.

Artscape Youngplace was developed as a non-residential condominium, otherwise known as a commercial condominium. Local Zoning By-laws indicated residential uses were not permitted on the land. The community also gave feedback that their vision did not include residential development; they wanted to maintain the community use of space that the school had offered for nearly a century. With the community’s support, obtaining Official Plan and Zoning By-Law amendments to allow community and cultural uses on the site was relatively straightforward.

See Who’s In Artscape Youngplace

Today Artscape holds a majority equity position in the building legally owned by Toronto Standard Condominium Corporation No. 2397 (“TSCC 2397”), carrying on business as “Artscape Youngplace”). TSCC 2397 is governed by a Board of Directors, comprised of five member seats, of which three are designated by Artscape. The Board is composed of members designated by Artscape and other equity stakeholders, each of whom owns a percentage interest in the property. There are 19 owners holding 25% of the square footage and Artscape (the 20th owner) owns 75%. Artscape oversees and delivers the physical property maintenance and upkeep and ensures that the community vision for the building is upheld in its operations.

The management and governance framework for Artscape Youngplace was designed to promote synergy, collaboration and community engagement. By combining the resources and expertise of Artscape with the voluntary stewardship, entrepreneurship and creativity of the project’s artist studio purchasers, tenants and community stakeholders, the project has benefitted from the commitment and connections of local stakeholders.

Artscape Youngplace’s advisories help Artscape actuate the community vision for the project. There are many moving pieces in the day-to-day operation and governance of the community hub, and three advisories and one committee contribute to the ongoing success of the building and the community it serves.

  • Youngplace Community Advisory
    Artscape works with community and building stakeholders to identify programming opportunities deliver special initiatives and leverage communication networks to encourage the involvement of community members in activities at Artscape Youngplace.
  • Curatorial Advisory
    Artscape manages the Hallway Galleries with input from a Curatorial Advisory composed of owners, tenants and representatives from the local neighbourhood and the Toronto arts community. This committee recommends programming policy and assists staff with the solicitation, review and selection of programming for the galleries and common spaces.
  • Flex Studios Artist Advisory
    This committee advises Artscape in the development of our Flex Studios program, which serves local artists and creators.

As majority owner and operator of the building, Artscape considered community stewardship from the very beginning. It was essential to re-invigorate this building at the heart of the community which sat vacant for a decade. Artscape wanted to ensure the community was involved at all stages of development through to operations. This includes involving the community in property governance, programming input and establishing ongoing open channels of communication.

On Tuesday, November 19, 2013, Artscape Youngplace hosted its Official Public Opening with an evening of exhibitions, open studios, great food and drinks, remarks and dancing. For many members of the community, it was their first time in the building since the old Shaw Street School closed in 2000. For Artscape Youngplace’s artists and organizations and the many people who were involved in bringing the building back to life, it was an opportunity to show off the fabulous new spaces and celebrate years of hard work. Over 1,600 guests were in attendance throughout the evening, setting a new record for an Artscape building opening. Throughout the evening, Artscape Youngplace’s resident artists and organizations showed off their new studios and demonstrated the kinds of creative work they would be undertaking in their space.

View Artscape Youngplace’s Community Stewardship Plan

Operations and Programming
Mission Statement: Artscape Youngplace nurtures creation, learning and collaboration through innovative programs, experiences and events in an inspiring, social environment in order to strengthen and grow our community.

Artscape Youngplace operates without subsidy and is a model for sustainable operation and fiscal management. Artscape’s projects are unique in that each individual project is self-sustaining on a cost recovery model with no public operating subsidy once the capital project has been completed. Only 3.5% of Artscape’s annual revenues across its entire operations come from operating subsidy. Rental and event business revenue cover operating costs. Average gross rental rates in Artscape Youngplace are 50% of submarket rates, measured against local comparable space.

The hub is staffed on-site with six full-time Artscape staff; a Managing Director, Program Manager, Event & Sales Manager, Event & Sales Assistant, Superintendent and a Senior Security Guard & Custodian. This team is supported by part-time custodial/security staff. Grants support the Resident Curator program.

Flex Studios
Artscape’s studio spaces are offered across a spectrum of affordability. Recognizing that ownership or long-term rental spaces are not affordable to all artists, Artscape introduced a new type of creative workspace at Artscape Youngplace. Flex Studios are an Artscape social enterprise programmed and administrated by Artscape staff. It is a membership-based service that provides pay-as-you-go access workspace to artists and creative entrepreneurs. Flex Studios are often used for programs, classes and events that are open to the public, including art classes, dance, music and yoga offering opportunities for all ages.

Flex Members make up the majority of the rentals from individual artists, including visual artists, photographers, ceramicists, dancers and writers, as well as small arts organizations, including theatre and dance companies, community arts groups and artist collectives. Flex Studios are also rented by not-for-profit organizations, post-secondary institutions and public and private school groups.

In the first year of operations, demand continued to grow for the 1,000 square foot classroom spaces. To accommodate the needs of the community, the Flex Studio Program is now centered on offering whole classroom spaces bookable by the hour, part-day, full day or multi-day.

Find Out More About Flex Studios and Event Space Rental at Artscape Youngplace

Artscape Youngplace Community Fund
To build on the momentum of the opening celebration and first months of programming, the Artscape Youngplace Community Fund was established in 2014 to build a reserve fund that is available to support ongoing community initiatives in and around the hub. The fund is a special envelope of monies earmarked for initiatives offered by community members that will enrich the opportunities for creative participation. Through an open process Artscape administers the fund; the funds come from revenues from community initiatives, or donations and sponsorships to the fund. In addition to cash, Artscape contributes in-kind spaces, communications and staff support to ensure the success of this program.

Individuals and community groups can apply to access funds to undertake a community event, activity or improvement. In its inaugural year the Artscape Youngplace Community Fund supported five initiatives, including: an arts festival, film workshops, participatory theatre, container gardens and a drawing and community arts project.

For more information about current programs and events please visit

Key Issues
As of 2013 there were 250 surplus schools in Ontario. Many of these surplus school buildings have significant heritage value, but repurposing them is difficult and expensive. Working with the heritage property on Shaw Street did not come without challenges, including heritage and design considerations, as well as sourcing diverse sources of capital.

Heritage and Design Considerations
Heritage and design considerations were an ongoing concern during the renovation of the building. Understanding and working with the underlying building condition was essential, and Artscape recommends doing as much due diligence as possible when working with a heritage structure. Achieving a balance between heritage needs and Building Code requirements is also challenging, and figuring out what aspects to demolish versus which features and elements to re-use. In this project Artscape determined all of the original windows had to be replaced, and had to conform to heritage standards. This was a very expensive endeavour and proved that a reserve/contingency fund can never be too large. It is always a careful balance to adaptively reuse a building while respecting the community’s preferences for the structure.

Diverse Sources of Capital
Cultural space development projects are at once complicated, time consuming, risky and expensive. In order to make this development project work, Artscape had to secure diverse sources of capital. The project was established as a commercial condominium, and thus there was an equity contribution from artist studio purchasers. The $19 million capital budget (including property acquisition costs) was also supported by impact investment, mortgage financing, government support and philanthropic contributions. Securing diverse and varied sources of capital is common thread in Artscape’s projects.

As part of securing financing for project development costs, Artscape applied to the City of Toronto for a capital loan guarantee, in the amount of $5.8 million, to be applied against a revolving demand loan that would only be accessed during the development and construction period. Lenders informed Artscape that they required the City loan guarantee as security for such financing. City Council approved the request in June, 2010, and the City secured its capital loan guarantee by a mortgage registered against the title of the Shaw Street property.


“The budget is higher than we originally thought it would be, which is also a lesson learned, because you discover things when you get into these old buildings that make the costs escalate. We tried to keep the beautiful elements of the building, including the core layout of the classrooms, the beautiful blackboards and some of the old fixtures to maintain some of the original charm.”  – Celia Smith, President, Artscape

From start to finish Artscape Youngplace took eight years of continual work. There were several key lessons learned during the journey:

  • The restoration and adaptive reuse of heritage buildings can be difficult and expensive. At the outset, it is very important to understand the state of building dis/repair. It would be rare to find an older structure, now disused, that has been kept in tip-top condition, making it essential to undertake thorough due diligence. Even in a relatively well-preserved structure, there is likely to be significant and complex work required, and the complexity of the renovations has implications with respect to how long the project is really going to take and whether the budget can accommodate the anticipated work and timeline.
  • Even with due diligence work done at the outset, one is likely to discover unexpected things that cause costs to escalate. As such, when working with repurposing older properties, it is important to have the capacity to manage contingencies, and to absorb and address unanticipated issues that may arise. In the context of the Shaw Street School, Artscape discovered that the building – thought to have ‘good bones’ – actually had significant water damage, necessitating substantial unanticipated work to reinforce the structure of the building.
  • There is a balance that must be struck between heritage needs – repurposing buildings in a way that respects the roots and heritage components of buildings – and meeting current building code and efficiency requirements. During this project, there was great interest from heritage planners to keep the original single-pane wood windows exactly the way they were, but it was impossible to do so and also meet building code standards.
  • Having the tenacity to source capital and the innovation necessary to establish a viable business model are key takeaways that Artscape uses for all of its projects. This project proved there is no cookie-cutter approach to developing the capital and operational budgets for a cultural hub.
  • Underscoring Artscape`s belief that every cultural hub project is unique was the appreciation that there is strength in diversity of uses. Artscape could not have imagined the varied and diverse organizations that would come together to make this community hub what it is. Artscape believes that an open-mind to opportunity, the unexpected and the unfamiliar is something that allowed this project to achieve diversity in uses, and a strong outcome.
  • Flex Studios was a new model for Artscape and there were many challenges that had to be overcome to ensure the success. Running a program that offers co-working space requires substantial physical and human resource. Booking, processing and servicing hundreds of rentals is time consuming and the program requires staff seven days per week.
  • In addition to the operational demands of the Flex Studios program, Artscape learned that interest in paying for co-working space in Toronto’s arts community is modest, and that there are abundant complimentary options, including the building’s Urban Living Lounge. In Toronto, core creatives want to pay for dedicated private space, not shared workspace, and Artscape had to make changes to the operating budget to account for this demand.
  • Artscape cannot understate the power of community enthusiasm in carrying a project from the early stages of pre-development through to operations. The community supported this project from the ground up in building a shared vision together with Artscape. The community will carry this project forward as it evolves to reflect their needs and aspirations, while always going back to support the original vision of its development. Community is everything in a community cultural hub.



Hill Strategies “Mapping Artists and Cultural Workers in Canada’s Large Cities,” February 2010. Accessed April 27, 2016

Communication from the Managing Director of Heritage Toronto, re: 180 Shaw Street. November 16, 1999. Accessed August 2, 2013. Available at:

Bryan E. McCormick, “History of Givins School,” TDSB Archives, Toronto, 1985, page14.