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Square Feet Helps Canadian Artists Buy and Lease

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 18 February 2003 00:00

Canadian artists may become so intent on perfecting their artistic skills that they overlook the importance of a safe, secure, affordable, inspiring space in which to work. Thanks to Toronto-based Artscape Inc. , artists who want help leasing or buying studio space can turn to Square Feet: The Ultimate On-line Resource for Artists, Collectives, and Arts Organizations Looking to Rent or Buy Workspace for details on every phase of selecting, establishing and maintaining creative space.

Square Feet is a 160-page Canadian publication that is available as a C$20 hard copy or a free printable PDF. The leasing sections of Square Feet drew upon a previous publication, Doing Homework: Educating Yourself as a Warehouse Tenant, created in conjunction with Canadian Artists' Representation Ontario (now CARFAC Ontario).

According to Liz Cohn, Artscape's Marketing and Development Coordinator, Square Feet was designed to fill the gap for artists and artist collectives in need of working/living space who could not be served by the 6 buildings currently operated by non-profit Artscape. This manual was compiled with the help of many people within the arts community and from the real estate industry. The Artscape Advisory Committee, numerous focus groups and contributors including the Association of Artist Run Centres & Collectives of Ontario, Dance Umbrella of Ontario, Ontario Association of Art Galleries, Orchestras Canada, the Professional Association of Theatres, Theatre Ontario and Toronto Theatre Alliance provided insight, direction and guidance in this project.

Square Feet answers the questions Artscape hears most often: How do I go about finding a space? Where should I look? What size and type of space do I need? How much will I have to pay? What does "Net Lease" mean? Should I consider buying a place? Worksheets and comparison charts help readers clarify their thinking, understand the details involved and focus their efforts.

This publication was intended for Ontario artists and those who want to come to this province to work or study, but only Toronto neighbourhoods are profiled. However, the approach used to identify important neighbourhood characteristics can be applied to communities across Ontario. The broad concepts and decision-making procedures are also useful for artists across Canada to use as a starting point when considering their real estate needs.

"It has been a huge tool for them because the guide is very thorough," said Cohn. "There are different sections that are helpful to a variety of artists, including how to purchase and how to form a cooperative.

"Artists move in somewhere that is inexpensive. They help with the "coolness factor" in a neighbourhood. Then comes gentrification and the artists can no longer afford the neighbourhood. This guide explains how artists can afford to buy or lease and how they can help themselves when gentrification happens."

Artists and crafts people may be moving directly from their parents' home or relying on experience in residential tenancies. Those who buy premises may be first-time buyers. Without understanding the complexities of commercial property, they may sign leases or agreements to purchase without knowing their short- and long-term rights.

Whether artists decide on a studio in an industrial building, a live/work unit or a soundproof basement apartment, they tend to cluster in communities where they will find the services, professional contacts and ambience most suited to their work. Artscape has found that many artists prefer to relocate to an area with existing artistic activity, but affordability may drive them into unfamiliar locations with an abundance of inexpensive industrial or commercial space - areas ripe for "seeding" by artists.

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