New project converts Montreal's vacant storefronts into artist studios

The plan came about thanks to $1 million in funding from the City of Montreal, who partnered with the annual urban art festival Art Souterrain to organize it.

60 artists have been given the chance to work out of free studios in areas bustling with foot traffic

Montreal artist says creating in public is helping boost her creativity

2 years ago
Duration 2:04
Featured VideoMarie-Chloé Duval is one of 60 artists who was given free studio space in vacant storefronts in Montreal as part of a project to revitalize downtown.

This summer, a handful of empty storefronts in downtown Montreal have been converted into free studios for artists to create and exhibit their work.

The plan came about thanks to $1 million in funding from the city of Montreal, who partnered with the annual urban art festival Art Souterrain to organize it.

Frédéric Loury, founder and CEO of the festival, told CBC that the idea has been in the works for several years.

The project, called Créer des ponts (Building bridges), is meant to kill two birds with one stone.

"Créer des ponts was based on two sad realities. The first one is the difficulties of emerging artists to find an art studio and to be able to create links and relationships with new publics and professionals. Because we know that the last two years they didn't have any opportunities to exhibit," said Loury.

"And the second goal was about vacant stores," he added. "We have so many vacant stores in Montreal because [of] the transition between retail stores to online commerce."

Artists are exhibiting art and creating it in these public spaces, and it gives them a chance to sell directly to the public. (Photo by Thierry du Bois)

Two years ago, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante started discussing the issue of vacant stores with stakeholders in the business and arts community, so Loury decided to approach the city with his idea.

He said the city embraced it and many of Art Souterrain's existing partners agreed to offer up empty real estate space to artists until October.

"They understood it was an opportunity," said Loury. A map of all the locations where artists can be found is available here.

Gonzalo Nunez, a spokesperson for the city, told CBC that the investment is part of the economic relaunch plan and a way to support artists affected by the pandemic.

As part of the Créer des ponts project, art installations are also being exhibited in 10 glass cubes in certain districts of the city. (Photo by Thierry du Bois)

"The culture and creativity industry has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This has exacerbated the precarious situation of emerging artists and those from diverse backgrounds," said Nunez in an email.

"In addition, with this measure, the city intends to revitalize downtown Montreal and the various commercial arteries struggling with a growing number of vacant premises."

'It's such a gift'

Marie-Chloé Duval is one of the artists who has set up in a makeshift studio next to Le Central food court on Ste-Catherine St. West.

Marie-Chloé Duval is one of 60 artists who are being given studio space in vacant storefronts in Montreal this summer. (CBC)

She said being around people in a bustling district is the exact change of pace she needed.

"Changing place, bringing only a few things and being in a different setup, I was so happy. Especially in the summer, having this new vibe and this new perspective on my art, it's such a gift," she said.

"The life of the area in downtown, it brings so much. Meeting new people, talking about art, and sharing the studio with my good friend and another person that I just met, and she does amazing art. Just those connections, that's what I'm mostly hoping for."

With files from Rowan Kennedy