Musicians want city to provide more affordable performance spaces for emerging artists

A city hall committee made up of councillors, musicians, venue owners and concert promoters has endorsed a motion asking staff to assess city venues that could host performances by emerging musicians. The motion now awaits final council approval.

City needs to do 'a much better job' of supporting young musicians, Coun. Joe Cressy says

Toronto-based electronic duo LAL, seen performing here, has opted to create their own DIY performance space called Unit 2, an affordable, safe place for LQBT artists and artists of colour. (Frederic Lacelle/Radio-Canada)

As rental prices in the city continue to soar, it's becoming more difficult for emerging musical artists to afford spaces to create and perform, and a city hall committee that promotes the music industry in Toronto wants to help change that.

Last month, the Toronto Music Advisory Committee, which includes three city councillors as well as musicians, venue owners and concert promoters, unanimously endorsed a motion asking city staff to assess city-owned venues that could be used to support local musical talent.

The motion was passed by the Economic and Community Development Committee this week and will go back to council for final approval on Nov. 26. The idea is to find affordable spaces that would allow marginalized artists who feel shut out of more conventional venues to put on DIY (Do-It-Yourself) cultural events — often combining music, visual arts and other art forms.

"We need to do a much better job of supporting and encouraging young artists to find their space and create music," said Ward 10 Coun. Joe Cressy, who chairs of the music advisory committee.

"Up-and-coming artists are finding themselves priced out," Cressy said, with many resorting to DIY spaces to showcase their talent.

Coun. Joe Cressy says 'when you look at DIY spaces, it’s more than just creating a space for new and emerging artists, it’s about establishing a feel that supports artistic creation.' (CBC)

These so-called "alternative" spaces, he says, include empty storefronts, condo presentation centres, churches, and industrial buildings. 

Cressy says the city owns more than 8,000 pieces of real estate across the city, some under-utilized.

"So what I'm hoping to see is we identify either one or a series of city-owned spaces that we can look to partner with DIY operators and allow them to use at below market rent," he said.

DIY spaces help foster diverse talent, musician says

Toronto musician Rosina Kazi says alternative performance spaces, outside traditional bars and clubs, are particularly important for artists from marginalized communities.

"DIY culture is always going to be an alternative for those of us who aren't interested in a corporatized art scene — or who can't get in," she said.

Besides being one half of the electronic duo LAL, for the past decade Kazi has been helping to operate Unit 2, a DIY space for LGBT artists and musicians of colour.

"It just allows us to do our work in a way that we want to do it.  A lot of the time, the folks from these communities are being disempowered, are being shut down," she said.

Kazi says she's seeing "more and more artists do stuff at their house, in their basement, in their garages" because there is a lack of safe, accessible, and affordable spaces.

Rosina Kazi, one half of the Polaris-nominated electronic duo LAL, says more performers are opting to create DIY spaces because of rising property prices. 'It was also becoming really unsafe for a lot of artists I know, trans and racialized folk, to go to clubs,' she adds. (CBC)

But while she's glad the city may be exploring options, she also has concerns.

"What worries me about the city being involved is always having to bow down to them and their bylaws," she said.

"DIY culture is not about bureaucracy, it's about just doing it."

If the motion is approved by council, Cressy says he expects city staff to report back in February with operating models and an assessment of potential venues.

"Ultimately, what I'd like to see is by 2020, for city-owned and operated spaces to be used in partnership with DIY operator," he said. 

"This is more than live music, it's cultural creation."