Understanding Drivers of Cultural Facility Development

There are a number of ways the idea for a project can take shape. There may be a beloved building needing a new purpose, or you may be a group in search of the perfect space. Whatever the scenario, it is important to understand all of the factors at play when planning your new development.
At times the impetus for the development of a cultural facility project will be space or site specific. We have found that the impetus for cultural facility projects is often one, or more, of the following factors:
  • A space in search of a use
    Sometimes a neighbourhood may have a much-loved old building looking for a new idea. This was the case, for example, with the Artscape Gibraltar Point project. Perhaps a perfectly located and vacant site is the catalyst for the creation of a cultural or creative hub.
  • A response to crisis or major change
    Sometimes a crisis in the arts community can be the driving factor in a project. This may be the impact of rising property values on workspace or housing affordability for the arts and cultural community. This was the key factor in the initial creation of Artscape and its first research study into workspace affordability for artists, “No Vacancy”. In other cases, the loss of existing facilities or new development changing the character of a neighbourhood will be the trigger for a project. These were both key factors in the creation of Artscape Triangle Lofts.
  • A response to a perceived need
    Cultural facilities are often developed in response to an identified or perceived need. Across Canada, North America, Europe and elsewhere, established public policy has played a central role in the development, delivery and operational models for arts and cultural facilities. The development of the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre as part of the heart of Canada’s largest neighbourhood revitalization was a response to the importance of creating accessible, relevant cultural infrastructure as part of the revitalization plan.
  • A group in search of a space
    An organization may be in search of a building, or a group of individual artists or arts organizations may be looking for opportunities to co-locate.
  • An historic landmark to be saved
    Sometimes an historic landmark under threat from demolition or redevelopment provides the focus for a campaign to find a new use for the property or site, usually one that is publicly accessible, and which restores and protects the site’s historically significant fabric. This was the case, for example, at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.
  • A development in search of an arts component
    Increasingly, developers are recognizing that a cultural element can potentially add value to their project by animating a new development and attracting other tenants or purchasers. The involvement of Artscape as an anchor tenant in the redevelopment of the historic Distillery District is an example of this.
Quite often, there may be more than one factor driving a project idea. However, if you think that all of these factors are at play in your project, you will need to spend some time establishing priorities and strategic focus. If the project is real estate-driven, the faster you reposition the building as the ideal program or service delivery vehicle, the stronger your project will be.