By Richard White, December 5, 2013
Soon the majestic one hundred year old sandstone King Edward School, butchered by two ugly square box additions in Calgary’s gentrifying South Calgary community (rather an ironic name given it isn’t anywhere near the southern edge of South Calgary anymore, but rather is an inner city community) will become a bustling arts centre. At least that is the vision and cSPACE is the name!
Last weekend, I checked the space out when I went to Market Collective’s “Christmas Market” show and sale there. The place was a hopping with Calgary hipsters (or GABEsters as I like to call them – Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) enjoying the music of a DJ, coffee from Café Rosso and browsing the pop-up artisan vendors in the second-floor classrooms.
It gave me a chance to flaneur the school and take some photos. Wouldn't you know it I got asked three times, “you must have gone to school here?” I smiled and said, “No, I just like to explore interesting places and take pictures of fun, funky and quirky things.”
It was definitely a fun space to explore. I even found there is supposedly a ghost named Eddy on the fourth floor. I wonder what he thinks of the new tenants and new vision.
I loved the way the space was already being used by the artists in various ways. Not only was there the “Christmas market” happening, but the 3rd floor classrooms were being used by various groups including one as drawing studio with live models. The old school’s hallway was filled with nude drawings, from floor to ceiling and some on the floor. I wonder what the teachers and principal back in 1914 would have thought of that!
Background on cSPACE
After failed attempts by the private sector to purchase the school and its surrounding land for a condo development, the Calgary Foundation and Calgary Arts Development Authority’s cSPACE group bought the land and then raised the funds to convert it into a creative hub.
What is a creative hub you ask? It is a mixed-use art space including a performance theatre, rehearsal space and studios for visual artists and writers. A planned hangout for artists of all ages and genres, in theory it should be a catalyst for creativity. A lot of research has gone into assessing the needs of Calgary’s arts community to continue to evolve and cSPACE is designed to provide some of them.
cSPACE Projects is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation and is a social enterprise model that will develop spaces for the arts across the city. King Edward School is the first of what will hopefully be many projects in the future for cSPACE.
For more info on the King Edward School Incubator project check out the cSPACE website.
It is interesting that something similar was tried in the late ‘70s. At that time, the Memorial Park Library was converted into an arts centre with the Muttart Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Calgary) on the second floor, while the lower floor became the home of the Calgary Public Library’s collection of arts-oriented books.
The vision was to create a place that would be home for artists and art patrons and be a catalyst for creativity. Unfortunately, the experiment didn’t work. The locals wanted a greater selection of books and the arts community never really adopted the place as theirs. The art gallery lasted for over two decades, but the space never really worked as an art gallery it as too small, inadequate elevator and storage space, on the wrong side of the tracks and too far away from other galleries art spaces to attract a large number of visitors. Location. Location. Location.
Today, the Memorial Park is again a regular branch library and the second floor houses the Calgary Library Foundation.
Reader VR writes: "I still mourn the demise of The Allied Arts Centre of the 1960's and 1970's with its great little theatre on 9th Avenue. There I took wonderful classes with Joyce Doolittle and Grant Reddick. Good old Rod Sykes, the then mayor, withdrew city funding and shut it down. I guess it is torn down by now. (Sigh) So this development shows there is hope. Now if we could just get a proper Civic Art Gallery."
I had forgotten about the Allied Arts Centre which also was a mixed-use arts facility in Calgary that lasted for a few decades but then died.
The cSPACE block (it takes an entire city block) is located just a “hop, skip and a jump” from the nearby community centre block with its playing fields, outdoor hockey rink and Alexander Calhoun Library. Also the west side of 14th Street SW from 26 to 29th Avenuesis quietly evolving into a local retail district with neighbourhood pub, salons, clothing stores and a soon-to-arrive Starbucks. cSPAC is Not far away is bell’s café bookstore, an established artists’ hangout.
Flaneuring around “South Calgary” you quickly realize that this, like all Calgary inner city communities is under siege with construction with infill projects being built on almost every block. While many are single family, monster homes, there are also lots of townhouses and small condo complexes.
They don’t come cheap, so they are no places where young artists could afford to live, but they are definitely places where art patrons would live. Hopefully there are also plans to also create affordable housing for artists in the community as vibrant communities need people of all ages and backgrounds to call them home.
cSPACE could easily be the catalyst needed to make South Calgary Calgary’s newest urban village.
I hope cSPACE works. The existing old school space is exactly what artists need to create – space that isn't too fancy or too expensive. Currently, it reminded me of how local artists had converted the Billingsgate Fish Market in East Village into studios, performance and exhibition space a few years back.
It also had some of the ambience of Art Central. Both were old buildings with lots of little spaces that could be rented cheaply.
My worry is that the multi-million dollar renovation will sanitize the space. Creativity is messy and spontaneous, not planned and formal. Too often new art spaces actually inhibit creativity by being too big, too clean, too safe, too expensive and too bureaucratic.
I hope I am worrying for nothing.
Reader TT points out that Toronto has completed a very similar initiative has been completed on Queen Street West. Shaw Street School has been transformed into a 75,000 square foot arts centre for $17 million compared to cSPACE's King Edward School which will be 45,000 square feet and $30 million including land costs. Read more: Shaw Street School