Project History

What is a community cultural hub?

A community cultural hub is a place where artists, local residents, community leaders, organizations, governments and businesses combine their efforts to foster culture and community. There are many different types of community cultural hubs. The vision for a community cultural hub is best built from the ground up in response to the needs, dreams and aspirations of community stakeholders.

Community cultural hubs are often multi-tenanted facilities including a range of components such as: theatres, galleries, and other types of indoor and outdoor public programming spaces; offices for cultural and community-based organizations; affordable housing for artist-led families; urban agriculture and food security initiatives; and social innovation centres. Community cultural hubs are often designed to serve multiple needs and interests and therefore can generate strong positive cultural, economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Where did the idea for a community cultural hub come from?

Support for this project has been expressed in the Weston community during public consultations held over many years to date. In July 2010, the City of Toronto initiated a feasibility study for a cultural/creative hub in Weston Mount Dennis. Artscape was selected to research this study. To ensure that the model was grounded and well researched, we surveyed best practices among cultural/creative hubs in Toronto and internationally and performed substantial primary and secondary research into the state of the cultural and creative sector in the study area.

Artscape solicited the public’s involvement and input through information meetings with local organizations and networks, focus groups and a community open house. In January 2011, we presented the research and final recommendations of our study at a community meeting, with the full report submitted to the City in March 2011. The report offers some answers as to how cultural/creative hubs may be one tool that can be used to stimulate economic growth and the broader benefits of culture-led regeneration. It also made a number of specific recommendations based on the feedback received related to the scale and program components to be included in a Weston community cultural hub. These recommendations later informed the scale and design of the community cultural hub plan developed with The Rockport Group.

Subsequent research and initiatives, notably a community design charrette and report by the Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel, and the City of Toronto’s Weston 2021 Revitalization Strategy in 2012, have also revealed support for arts and culture playing a role in the revitalization of the Weston/Mount Dennis area. 

What other areas of the city have community cultural hubs? Are they considered a community service like libraries and community centres? Who funds them?

Community cultural hubs are rare in the city. The development of space for culture is not considered a core community service like schools, libraries, and community centres. The City of Toronto and other levels of government struggle to support the capital and programming requirements of their existing community infrastructure and are reluctant to take on more responsibilities in this area. Leadership in developing community hubs therefore is most likely to come from the not-for-profit sector.

Artscape has built and operates four community cultural hubs to date: Artscape Wychwood Barns, Artscape Gibraltar Point; Daniels Spectrum and Artscape Youngplace. The United Way operates 8 community hubs in neighbourhoods across the city but these are largely focused on the delivery of community services as opposed to culture. It has been Artscape’s experience that for a community cultural centre to work, there needs to be a great site, passionate local leadership, cultural capacity and community will aligned around a strong shared vision for the project.

Who funds community cultural hubs?

Funding for community cultural hubs is extremely difficult to secure. Each Artscape project starts by gathering ideas through a community visioning process guided by a Community Advisory Committee. It often takes months or years before a vision emerges that is strong enough to begin to attract interest and investment to make it happen. For Artscape Wychwood Barns, this process stretched out over eight years as support for the project grew and funding was cobbled together from 40 different sources. Today, there are currently only two limited government programs where community cultural hubs are eligible: Cultural Spaces Canada through Canadian Heritage (grants general less than $2MM) and Ontario Trillium (grants general less than $150K).  The lack of a strong public policy context and reliable sources of public and private funding means a great deal of creativity is required. Anchoring them within real estate projects has proven to be the most effective way of creating the impetus for a community cultural hub.

How did Artscape and Rockport become involved in the John Street site?

Toronto Parking Authority declared the John Street parking lot surplus and issued a call to developers to purchase it for re-development. The proposal call required the proponent to build a community cultural hub on the site and come forward with a non-profit partner who would operate it. Rockport formed a partnership with Woodbourne Capital (the owners of 33 King Street) and enlisted Artscape to be the operator of the hub. Considerable time and effort was invested by the partners on developing a project plan that met the City’s objectives and fulfilled the preliminary vision for a community cultural hub in Weston that was recommended in the 2011 feasibility study. Rockport and its partners were confirmed as the successful proponent and subsequently negotiated the terms of a purchase and sale agreement with the Toronto Parking Authority and the City of Toronto.

Is Artscape working with other private developers in other parts of the city?

Artscape’s work happens at the intersection of arts and culture, urban development, community activism, public policy and philanthropy. In successful projects, all of these things come together in quirky but brilliant combinations. Currently, Artscape has six new projects in development and several more in exploration. All of them involve partnerships with private sector developers. Partnering with private developers and others have allowed Artscape ensure more projects in the community without shouldering all the risk associated with developing, financing and building projects.

What are the sources of funds for the project?

A comprehensive description of the sources of funding for the project is set out in the March 11th City of Toronto reports that reads as follows:

“The total capital cost is estimated at $10.05 million. An additional $3.25 million to be placed in an operating reserve will also be necessary to ensure the viability of the Community/Cultural Hub over the first 15 years of operation, for a total funding requirement of $13.3 million.

Funding for the project has been identified through a number of sources including the proceeds from the sale of the TPA parking lot, relief from City fees and charges, DC reserve fund contributions and credits, application of the Section 37 and cash-in-lieu parkland contributions, to be determined through the planning review process in the next phase, funding from the Federal-Provincial Investment in Affordable Housing Program, fundraising and a leasehold mortgage from Artscape, as well as an operating endowment from the developer. The funding sources and estimated amounts are summarized as follows:

Source of Funds

There is no direct impact on City Operating or Capital Budgets from adoption of the recommendations contained in this report. The sources of funds arise from the completion of the sale of the TPA parking lot and revenues to the City from the developer’s proposed multi-residential development that are revenues which would not arise but for completion of the development. The affordable Live/Work Units are proposed to be funded through the federal-provincial Investment in Affordable Housing program. The multi-residential development together with the Community/Cultural Hub and affordable rental Live/Work Units are seen as an important and essential step in the revitalization of the area.”

How has the City of Toronto supported the development of a community cultural hub in Weston?

The City of Toronto and Councillor Nunziata have demonstrated strong leadership in supporting the development of a community cultural hub for Weston. At a time when resources for new projects are scarce and competition for them among priorities is fierce, City of Toronto staff and Council have demonstrated extraordinary creativity in finding a way for the project to move forward. As noted above, the City of Toronto plans to invest $5.7MM of its resources and direct a further 3.5 million in federal/provincial housing support to the project. It is worth noting that the direct investment planned by the City is being made possible through the proceeds of the development.

Artscape Weston Hub has been compared with Artscape Wychwood Barns. Is the Artscape Weston Hub meant to be the same as the Barns?

Artscape’s community-design process for cultural hubs is focused on developing places that are able to respond to the unique needs, challenges, dreams and aspirations in the neighbourhoods where they are located. There are lots of other factors that influence the vision and operating plan for community cultural hubs. In the case of the Barns, the opportunity that presented itself was a 60,000 square foot, city-owned, heritage building in search of a use. In the case of the Weston project, the opportunity came in the form of a request for proposals for a city-owned parking lot next to an underutilized grocery store and parking structure. In the case of the Barns, the challenge was how to fill the building with uses that would be sustainable. In the case of the Weston project, the uses and scale of what was needed had been confirmed through a previous feasibility study process. So the challenge in Weston was how and where to fit the program into the development. While the Artscape Weston Hub and Artscape Wychwood Barns share a few of the same component parts (artist live/work and public programming space) the look, feel, programming and partnerships that brings them to life will arise out of their unique local contexts and therefore are certain be very different.

Artscape properties operate on a social enterprise model. What does that mean?  How do they work?

Artscape projects operate on a social enterprise basis and are designed to be self-sustaining without relying on ongoing public subsidy. To make this possible, Artscape raises as much capital and limits the amount of mortgage debt so that the properties remain affordable and accessible. Revenues are generated from below-market rents, memberships, user fees and licenses. Many Artscape projects also have social-enterprise performance and event venues that offer a sliding scale of rental rates that accommodate the need and capacity of a wide range of users.

Will the project include a park or outdoor space for community use?

Yes, the parking lot adjacent to 33 King Street will be transformed into an outdoor programming space for the community and a place for the existing Farmers’ Market in Weston. Artscape will also play a role in programming arts activities in the outdoor space and will explore  the community’s ideas for what they would like to see happen in the outdoor space. The refreshed outdoor space will also feature landscaping and street furniture.

Will the Farmers Market be part of the site?

We continue to actively work with the BIA to ensure that the Farmers Market returns to the site, and recognize that the market’s success will be an essential component of the overall success of the John Street revitalization.