Artist studio space in Calgary – a review

 In cSPACE News

Artist studio space in Calgary has long been a challenge, with soaring rents, and many affordable buildings on the brink of gentrification.  

According to the Calgary Foundation’s Vital Signs report, “an annual check-up that measures the vitality of Calgary”, the second highest citizen priority in relation to the arts was to “Increase availability of creative space for the arts community”. For a city with the only accredited art and design college in Alberta and a population of over 1.2 million, we have relatively few studio spaces available to entice graduating and working artists to continue their practice here in Calgary. At cSPACE, we field many questions on studios – while our own spaces will be open at the school in December 2016 (more on this at the end of the article), we wanted to shout out to some of our friends across Calgary who are tackling the artist studio challenge.

Untitled Art Society is potentially the first place emerging artists gravitate to for space. Housed in the Greycon Building on 11th Avenue (which does have additional floors of, albeit, more expensive commercially rented studio space), Untitled’s 16 studios are offered at subsidized rates.  Members have opportunities to network and exhibit work, and the society also runs an off site gallery, the UAS Contemporary Art Main Space.

Burns Visual Arts Society is tucked between the residential and industrial sides of Ramsay.  During their monthly open studio night in July, a lively members’ rockabilly band played to artists and friends outside. The buildings large studios were packed with life and artworks, showing no sign that the longest running studio space in town (est. 1979) has any intention of slowing down.

Calgary is also home to several collectives which offer shared equipment and workspace, to offset the immense costs and space needed for art practices like print media. Alberta Print Makers (est. 1989, and located in the Chinook industrial area), and Burnt Toast Studios (started in 2000 by a group of ACAD graduates), both allow members to access various printmaking equipment including sharing costs of screen printing ink and emulsion supplies.

Relatively new spaces exist outside the inner city where entrepreneurial artists are taking on the large task of providing space.  Art Box on 17e is located in the Greater Forest Lawn area and features not only studios but gallery, black box, and stage space. Lovecraft Gallery similarly offers studio and gallery space, as well as communal kilns and potters wheels, was formerly located in Forest Lawn but is now on the move to a new space.   

While many studio spaces are here to stay for the foreseeable future, endangered spaces are also present in Calgary’s rapidly developing core.   Art Point Studios is a mainstay of the Inglewood/Ramsay area since 2004 (with 23 unique studios, 56 members and two gallery spaces), but its current building is set to be demolished for the new Green c-train line and organizers are searching for space. Of Artpoint, member and administrator Terra McDonald says:

“There are sculpture studios, The Heritage Weavers and Spinners Studio, painting and drawing studios in the building. Visitors to Artpoint often inquire about the availability of studio spaces. Currently all of the studio spaces at Artpoint are filled and there is a waiting list. However, the turnover of studio space is not very quick here so even though the list is short the waiting period for studio space could be months or more.

Inglewood’s Pith Gallery and Studios are also on the lookout for a new home as their current Inglewood building will be demolished to make condos in the trendy neighbourhood.  Several temporary spaces are inventively utilizing buildings provided by developers as the spaces await redevelopment. The relatively new Voltage Creative Garage (housed in a former car repair shop in Marda Loop) and the prolific and entrepreneurial Blank Page Studios are two such spaces, for whom the timeline for the future is unknown.  

“With the current economic recession, we are seeing a greater need for affordable spaces for artists. Renting space is expensive, but we saw an opportunity, a property that would otherwise remain empty and unsightly to good use. Voltage’s aim is to provide support for artists, and give back to the community. There is great deal of space in this city that remains vacant, yet unaffordable. We would like to see more landlords like ours reassess their unoccupied properties and create opportunities that would benefit the community as a whole.” commented Andrea Llewellyn of the community building work done by Voltage Creative Garage.

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Blank Page Studios, common event area

While this is not a comprehensive list, and for the most part excludes studio spaces that are found in homes, garages, or shared warehouses privately rented by collectives, the need for studio space is clear.  Most of the listed organizations rarely post rental availabilities, but calls for space can be found through Calgary Arts Development’s classified listings or the popular Art Spaces networking night, a free event is designed to “connect community groups and other facility operators with artists and arts organizations looking for space”.  We salute those organizations who are supporting artists by providing affordable space, in Calgary’s turbulent market.

The currently in progress studio space. This ground level studio space at the King Edward will have great NE light with windows on 2 sides, and high ceilings.

When the cSPACE King Edward opens in December 2016, it will be the home of several artist studios ranging from 250-850 sq. ft. as well as organizational space.  Five studios clustered on the 4th floor of the building will be available at discounted rates for emerging artists. They feature enhanced ventilation, concrete floors and access to shared utility sinks, all designed with a funky sloped roof, shared exhibition walls and operable skylights with views of the downtown.  Additional studio spaces are planned on Levels 1 and 2 with 12-14 ft ceilings, original wood trim and large windows. Locating at cSPACE gives artists access to a diverse creative community as well as meeting rooms, kitchen and social spaces that will fuel their creativity. 

Currently in construction, King Edward’s soon to be funky fourth floor artist studios. Studios will feature skylights looking onto downtown Calgary, sloped roofs, original exposed brick and a common area.

Our objective is to provide inspiring working spaces for artists that are affordable and stable, in buildings that are well-run, vibrant and healthy. Our studios are priced at the median of studio spaces in Calgary – we’re not the cheapest space, but we hope to provide artists with the best value overall in our city. Applications for shared studio spaces are encouraged to offset rental costs and a call for studio spaces will be released shortly in November 2015.

While the King Edward is the first of many projects we hope to build for the community, plans for more artist studio buildings and live-work housing is in the works. We are excited to do our part in shaping Calgary as a place for creatives to thrive!

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