$1.5M grant to help transform vacant buildings into arts hubs for The Quarters

Two vacant buildings on the east side of Edmonton’s downtown will be renovated, retrofitted and reborn as permanent arts hubs in The Quarters district, thanks in part to a $1.5 million contribution announced Friday by the federal government.

“Artists make a huge difference in an area,” Coun. Scott McKeen said Friday following the announcement. “They just bring a creative energy to the area, which draws other creative people and young people.

“From that comes investment in new restaurants or clubs or galleries,” McKeen said. “You can get enough momentum going that you can change an area’s vibe.”

Half the money will go toward renovations to a 1962 two-storey building at 9604 101A Ave. which will become the home of the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, which has operated since 2015 without a location.

From left: Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, Ociciwan Contemporary Arts Collective; Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault; Pablo Rodriguez, federal minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism; Coun. Scott McKeen; and Darren Radbourne, Quarters Arts Society president (CBC)

The building, located just behind the Gibson block and formerly used by iHuman, will become Edmonton’s first Indigenous-run centre for contemporary art, said Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez,  who was in Edmonton for the announcement.

The 6,945-square-foot space will be accessible, and include a main-floor gallery, community spaces, resource library, meeting rooms, offices for rent and a kitchen, said Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, a member of the collective and architect with Manasc Isaac.

“The goal is to create a venue to present, and to have, indigenous contemporary art continually available in our city,” she said Friday.

She added that the facility will never have admission fees or membership costs.

“When it’s open, it’s truly open to all.”

The second project involves a one-and-a-half-storey structure built in the mid-1950s at 9641 102A Ave. which will be occupied by the Quarters Arts Society.

Society president Darren Radbourne​ said the 7,240-square-foot space will provide affordable and professional spaces including a workshop studio, performance hall, new media hub, gallery and cafe.

The vacant building at 9641 102A Avenue in Edmonton which will be renovated to become the home of the Quarters Arts Society. (Google Street View)

An artist’s rendition of the renovated building at 9641 102A Avenue. (CBC)

Radbourne​ said the financial support sends an important message about the value of independent arts being integrated into a thriving community, not stuck to the fringe.

“The arts were doomed to this Sisyphean task of continually claiming forgotten spaces, only to lose that space when its perceived value increased,” he said.

McKeen noted that the area has been the scene of much homelessness and poverty.

“As cities, we do a really good job of keeping our homeless people alive but we don’t necessarily give them a reason to live. And that’s why, full circle, these announcements are so cool.

“What you have done here today, is invest in something that is going to uplift the whole community and inspire the whole community.”

The Quarters District is a long-neglected neighbourhood in east downtown, extending from 97th Street to 92nd Street and from 103A Avenue to the top of the North Saskatchewan River Valley. The city’s long-term vision for the 100-acre area is to create a dynamic community that respects the unique character of existing neighbourhoods.

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