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New arts hub aims to help make it affordable to be creative in Toronto

Between pandemic lockdowns and the rising cost of living, succeeding in Toronto has been even more of a struggle for the city’s artists. A new space in the Annex has just opened to help.

There’s a recording studio, a rehearsal space, a lounge and private booths for artists to mix and have meetings — and the goal is to offer them at affordable prices, according to the organization behind it. 

It’s called B Street Collaborative, or just “B Street” for short, and it’s the new headquarters for the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), which calls it the city’s “newest affordable arts and culture hub.”

“It’s been a really tough time for arts and culture,”  TAPA executive director Jacoba Knaapen told CBC at a crowded ribbon-cutting ceremony outside B Street Monday morning. “Giving people space and giving people time to create is critical right now.”

The new space will provide Toronto’s artists a place to collaborate, exchange ideas, rehearse and work on their projects, said Knaapen. 

Four women laugh in front of a new building as a cut red ribbon flows in the wind.
Organizers cut the ribbon to the B Street Collaborative arts hub in Toronto’s Bloor Annex neighbourhood. TAPA executive director Jacoba Knaapen is second from the right. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

These past few years have been a hard go for artists in Toronto, she said, adding that audience numbers are still yet to return to what they were before COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Since that time, TAPA’s membership has gone from 196 professional theatre, dance and opera companies to 119, Knaapen added.

“The numbers tell the story,” Knaapen said. “That gives you sort of an idea of how, not everybody had to close, but a lot of companies had to press pause – and how difficult is it to ramp that back up.”

A lounge with couches in an office building. People are eating and drinking - about a dozen of them.
The lounge in the TAPA headquarters will offer artists a place to mix outside of coffee shops and apartments. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Most importantly, Knaapen says, is that the cost will be affordable to artists. B Street’s rates will offer artists space to rehearse at $25 an hour, and space to record at $20 an hour.

A young woman and middle aged woman talk before a camera and blue screen in a studio.
A demonstration of one of the new self-tape recording studios where artists can record auditions, among other things. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Artists say new hub will help struggling professionals

“It feels like a wonderful restart,” said actor Ryan G. Hinds, who was among the crowd celebrating the opening Monday. “We’re all back in the swing of doing what we do and being in our artistic communities again. So it’s really exciting to see what’s going to bloom here.”

A young man speaks to a news reporter on camera. He is outside a building on a city street. it is cold and grey.
Ryan G. Hinds says B Street feels like a “wonderful restart” for Toronto artists. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Michael Sinclair, the general manager at Obsidian Theatre Company, which supports Black artists specifically, said he hopes B Street will offer something he’s seen disappearing in the city over the past few years: affordable space to create and collaborate.

“It’s come at a time when the arts industry has been hit so hard,” he said. “We’ve lost so many spaces, you know, arts workers are leaving the city.”

A middle aged man with a mustache talks to a microphone on a city street on a cold grey day. There's a crowd around him, but minding their own business.
Michael Sinclair is general manager of Obsidian Theatre. He says B Street offers space Toronto artists badly need. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The building’s new director, Dylan Trowbridge, says B Street will be “a real physical headquarters for artists to get them out of their homes and into a space together again.”

“This building and B Street exists for one reason and that is to help artists thrive,” he told the crowd Monday. “We all know that performing artists in the city are facing a space crisis and we are here to disrupt that trend.”

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