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Repurposing Schools as Cultural Spaces


November 3, 2013
by Canadian Architect

A global leader in creative placemaking, Toronto’s Artscape is hosting a free webinar on Repurposing Surplus Schools as Cultural Spaces on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 1:00pm EST. Leading the discussion are Celia Smith, Artscape Executive Vice President; Pru Robey, Director of Artscape’s Creative Placemaking Lab; and Wendy Holmes, Senior Vice President, Consulting & Strategic Partnerships, Artspace USA. The session will feature short presentations by the panelists on unique approaches to the adaptive reuse of surplus schools for arts and cultural uses, followed by a facilitated discussion and Q+A session with webinar host Pru Robey. This webinar is open to all, and registration is available online at http://surplusschools.eventbrite.ca.

In Canada, a school closes every week, and 175 schools in Ontario were declared surplus between the years of 2009 and 2012. Communities large and small in Canada and the US are facing the unique challenge of how to re-purpose school buildings that are often large, empty, and situated in residential locations. Artscape’s Repurposing Schools webinar will outline examples, benefits and challenges of re-purposing school buildings, as well as addressing the essential role of partnerships and community engagement in the process of redevelopment.

“There has been an explosion of interest in the creative community’s role in driving growth, change, transformation and the new economy. Many communities struggle with the challenge of translating the new interest in creative cities and economies into targeted strategies,” said Pru Robey, Director of Artscape’s Creative Placemaking Lab. “This webinar will answer the questions we hear most from city builders and practitioners.”

Artscape has blazed trails in the adaptive reuse of schools — projects that present rich opportunities for communities across the country. Artscape Youngplace is the organization’s latest project, and serves as a superb example of the vast potential that repurposed schools represent. After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the century-old former Shaw Street School (at 180 Shaw Street) has undergone a $17-million transformation to become a new community cultural hub opening to the public on November 19, 2013. The reinvigoration of this 75,000-square-foot community gem has taken many years and involved hundreds of stakeholders in a process that will ultimately deliver a facility designed to meet the community’s needs and provide sustainable space for the arts, culture and creativity in Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood.

Artscape Youngplace is the second repurposed school project in Artscape’s portfolio, alongside Artscape Gibraltar Point, the former historic Toronto Island Public and Natural Science School. Both projects represent the revitalization of community gems and the important provision of creative space to support and enable local arts and culture. These repurposed school projects have mobilized the creative community, local residents, city-builders, public and private foundations, as well as philanthropists and corporations, resulting in a triple-win solution: a win for the creative community in creating a mix of affordable spaces for arts and culture; a win for city-builders in addressing a development challenge in an innovative way; a win for past, present and future community members in preserving and enlivening a precious piece of shared heritage.

This is the fourth in Artscape’s series of free webinars presented in partnership with ArtsBuild Ontario exploring new approaches and models for the development of cultural space. Artscape is uniquely positioned to deliver these learning opportunities; with over 25 years of experience in creative placemaking to share, and growing a community of practice is central to its mandate. Collaborating with local partners and experts across Canada and the USA in this project has resulted in four exceptional learning opportunities for participants. The final installment addresses a topic of critical importance and great potential for engaging art, culture and creativity as catalysts for community vibrancy, sustainability, prosperity and inclusiveness.


artscape youngplace, a repurposed school on shaw street in toronto. photo taken at nuit blanche in 2011. photo by garrison | mac arthur photographers.
artscape youngplace, a repurposed school on shaw street in toronto. photo taken at nuit blanche in 2011. photo by garrison | mac arthur photographers.


Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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