Drake One Fifty Lunch & Learn: Tim Jones

Posted by Jen McNeely, April 21, 2016
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Photo by Andrew Williamson


Most of us will agree that Artscape is incredibly cool, but what is it, exactly?

To you, it may be the beloved Farmer’s Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns. Or maybe you are a parent who has spent countless hours bumbling around with your toddler at the Montrose Early Childhood Centre in Artscape Youngplace, situated across the hall from SKETCH's Open Studio for street-involved and homeless youth. Perhaps you’re an artist living in an Artscape building right now!

With 2300 people living or working in one of ten Artscape buildings across the GTA, and community events or splashy fundraisers happening daily, Artscape has made a lasting impression on so many Torontonians, but our experiences vary widely.

“If you asked five different people what Artscape was, you'd probably get a different answer because of their point of reference...and that's okay.” says CEO Tim Jones, who made time in his jam-packed schedule to meet me for a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts at Drake One Fifty. “We deal with a lot of different stakeholders: arts & culture, urban development, community activism, philanthropy, public policy.”

While Artscape may mean something different to all of us, their mission is succinct: “We make space for creativity and transform communities.” That it does, but it took years of work and progress before that mission was understood clearly.

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In 1986, when the non-profit organization was founded, its primary goal was to help subsidize living space for artists, but it was Artscape’s role in the transformation of The Distillery District in 2001 when Tim began to realize a new potential for the organization. “We saw the value we were bringing to urban development. Our involvement there helped catapult the project and attract other kinds of partners,” says Tim. “That's when it struck me: rather than thinking of us as a service for the arts, getting a grant to deliver a program where artists are the victims of urban renewal, it occurred to me that we needed to reframe the conversation into one where artists are adding value. How do we leverage that for their benefit, and also help to grow a city?”

Once the conversation was reframed, Tim and his team began looking at other cities in the world to see how culture was being used as a catalyst for change. (This was around the same time that Artscape coined the term “creative placemaking.”) Now they strive to find creative solutions to the following questions: How do we be more intentional about building quality spaces? How do we take advantage of culture?

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Answering those questions with extensive research, thought and care, is how Artscape has become an organization that can move into a neighbourhood and transform it with beautiful new life. It’s why it is able to bridge gaps between socioeconomic groups in a way that is not just about inclusiveness and equity, but also creative synergy. Something that happens both intentionally, by groups, organizations, and businesses partnering with each other, but also organically from living under the same roof, breathing the same air.

Artscape's newest endeavour, Artscape LaunchPad, seeks to capitalize synergy in a way that has never been done before in this city by transforming the waterfront property (where Guvernment Nightclub pulsated for nine years) into a centre dedicated to creative entrepreneurship.

It will be part incubator, part co-working space and part entrepreneurship development centre. Tim compares it to a health club: “People will pay a monthly membership and have shared access to 3D printers, laser cutters, wood shop, textiles lab, audio/visual recording facilities,” he says excitedly. (I'm excited too!) Beyond equipment, the Launchpad will also connect emerging artists and designers to mentors, and offer classes, like how to launch a kick-starter campaign.

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“We have an ambition to create the conditions for creative people to thrive,” says Tim. “Artists are twice as likely to have a university degree or more, but earn 40% less on average of most Canadians. The transition from post-secondary education for art and design professionals into self-employment is hugely challenging, partly because when you graduate, you lose access to equipment.”

Like all Artscape projects, it's a lofty undertaking, but it’s one that could change the lives of many. “I want people to feel empowered and be free to direct their own life and business,” says Tim. With ten years of research to draw on, LaunchPad is scheduled to open in 2018.

It's true, Artscape is hard to describe, but I think a fair and simple description that we can agree on is this: Artscape is a remarkable organization that makes Toronto better.

Posted in: Drake One Fifty