Kitchener's creative hub at 44 Gaukel a success, but may have to relocate
Audit finds 'substantial and urgent improvements' needed to the building
The creative hub at 44 Gaukel Street in downtown Kitchener, Ont., turned out to be everything city staff envisioned when council approved $775,000 to launch the pilot project in 2018. The hub was opened a year later and quickly became known by many simply by its street address: 44 Gaukel.
But there's a problem with keeping the hub in its current location. The building itself needs a lot of work, a city staff report going before councillors on Monday says.
The report notes there are 34 tenant spaces used by artists and local businesses in this former Canada Post building. The space outside it, now dubbed the Gaukel Block, has become a community gathering space since the street was closed to vehicles.
The amount paid by tenants at 44 Gaukel makes up about 33 per cent of the operating budget, which means the city spends about $250,000 on it each year. The report notes this is similar to funding to other groups including TheMuseum, Homer Watson House and Gallery and the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund.
The space "serves both emerging and established arts workers," the staff report says. "Tenant successes have come in many shapes and sizes."
That includes the rapper Just Ideas, getting a Juno nomination for a song produced in a recording studio at 44 Gaukel. Artists Alanah Jewell and Luke Swinson started doing a few print sales in the small space but "quickly outgrew" it and now have contracts with global brands including Roots and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"The pilot period has involved many tenants, but their interests in locating at 44 Gaukel Creative Workspace have been similar — easy access to other creators," the report said.
That's been true for Paul Field, CEO of Artshine, a local organization that has grown from art programs in schools and the local community to now having offices in other Canadian cities and a subscription art box service around the world.
In an interview from Texas on Friday, where he was attending a subscription box conference, Field said the space allowed them to collaborate with others. The city helped by offering an affordable space, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
"We would even hire artists that are using the space to help us create curriculum. [With] other smaller companies in the space, we'd bounce ideas off of each other and we got really good feedback about a shipping tool that somebody was using that we didn't know about. It's a real community there," he said.
"So it's really helped provide employment for artists in our company and be an amazing hub to grow a company across North America from Kitchener."
Substantial, urgent improvements needed
In the report going before the finance and corporate services committee Monday afternoon, city staff say they recommend the creative hub continue to exist once the pilot project ends this year.
But staff are foreshadowing the possibility the creative hub will have to move to a different location.
"44 Gaukel was originally selected as it was a vacant city-owned facility which could be easily adapted to serve this intended purpose," the report said, noting it has served the purpose well.
But a building condition and accessibility audit conducted recently found there are "substantial and urgent improvements" needed.
They include the outdated HVAC system. Its "utility costs represent a sizeable portion of the operating costs."
"Given the investments needed at 44 Gaukel, staff recommend undertaking a comparative analysis to determine the optimal long-term location of the creative hub," the report says.
Until a decision is made on how to move forward, operation of the creative hub can continue in the building, the report notes.
"Moving forward, should council decide to make a deeper investment in flexible, subsidized workspace for arts sector development, a balance will need to be found between expenses for operations, maintaining a state of good repair, and the workforce-boosting, culture enriching possibilities of purpose-built, scalable arts resources."