The changing landscape of West Queen West may have forced many out with rising rents and condo construction, but the not-for-profit arts organization The Theatre Centre was not only able to survive in the high demand area, but has secured a new, more permanent, home.
On Oct. 11 the Theatre Centre, now operating out of pop-up space at 1095 Queen Street West, will begin construction to retrofit the historic Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West to create a new, assessable and community oriented arts hub.
The Theatre Centre, which incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1981, develops, presents and produces live performance through collaboration between artists, staff and audience and provides artists with infrastructure and resources to make their art.
Franco Boni has been the General and Artistic Director of The Theatre Centre since 2003.
“For us it is about incubation and residency,” he said. “It is the support of the development of an idea over the long term, that is the important thing.”
Boni explained The Theatre Centre has called West Queen West home for 23 years, long before all of the arts establishments that exist in the area were there. It was once housed at 1032 Queen Street West and then at 1087 Queen Street West as part of the Great Hall building. With the rising cost of rents and gentrification in the area its tenancy at the Great Hall was unstable.
But, in 2005, Boni said, two things happened around the same time that led the Theatre Centre to its, soon to be, new home.
“The first was the activism of Active 18, responding to the number of condo developers who were very interested in redeveloping the Queen West Triangle,” he said.
Boni became involved with Active 18, residents and business-owners association of Ward 18, and as part of his work with the organization he identified Historic Carnegie Library, a landmark building on the strip, as a potential new space for the centre.
At the same time, the councillor at the time, Adam Giambrone, had identified the library as having potential as a community space or a community hub.
“It was really a collision of a number of different agendas, ours, the councillor wanting to give back to the community a public arts space,” Boni explained.
Through a great deal of hard work by the community, Active 18, the developers and city councillors The Theatre Centre was able to secure a long term lease for the library.
“It is the efforts of all of those people, and I am not just saying that,” Boni said. “They moved mountains to make this happen.”
On Oct. 11 a celebration will be held to mark the beginning on renovations to the building.
“It really is a celebration of the initial funds given to The Theatre Centre,” he said, adding the fundraising campaign for the renovations has reached 85 per cent of the 6.2 million dollar goal.
The Theatre Centre has been supported by the City of Toronto, The Metcalf Foundation, the Province of Ontario, Canadian Heritage and the Trillium Foundation.
Boni said the design of the new Theatre Centre space is beautiful and fully accessible.
“It will be a place that people in the condos, living in small units because a lot of them are 500 to 800 square feet, can gather,” he said. “We want to be their living room, that is the goal.”
Upon entering the new space you will find a café with lots of windows that open up to some stadium seating.
“We want it to be a performance space and multi-use,” Boni said. “It is a hub, a living room, a place you can come and hang out.”
There is also a rehearsal space and an upper lobby that is about 1000 square feet with 15-foot ceilings that can be used for installations. There is a roof-top terrace and a green roof that overlooks Queen Street. The heart of the new centre is a 200-seat performance space.
They will continue to do the events they traditionally have, like the City of Craft sale, but Boni said the new space will enable them to do much more.
“I would love to introduce new projects,” he said, adding that there is a brand new park to be built next to the old library and The Theatre Centre can look at ways to animate that space.
The ceremony to mark the beginning of construction takes place at the Library, 1115 Queen Street West, at 11 a.m. and the public is welcome to attend.
Construction will take about 10 months and Boni said the new Theatre Centre should be open by the fall of next year.