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Inside Artscape's new Shaw Street School development

Posted by Sarah Ratchford / January 6, 2014

Artscape Youngplace Shaw StreetArtscape Youngplace in Toronto is home to ghosts of tiny children who wander adrift through the corridors of 180 Shaw St - or so it seems. It used to be their school, and now it's Artscape's newest property. Built in 1914, the building is still dotted with remnants of the past, despite its recent overhaul. Trophies won by students in decades gone by are displayed in glass cases on the first floor.

Check out this photo gallery for a visual tour of the building.

Further down the long, echoey hallway, clocks are mounted on the wall, each one stopped at 8:32 - the time (either in the morning or the evening) when the school officially stopped being a school.

20131220_590AndrewWilliamson_ArtscapeYOUNGPLACE_9134.jpgThe TDSB closed Shaw Street School in 2000 because the cost of running it was just too high compared with the level of enrollment. Now, it's been reclaimed and renamed as Artscape Youngplace, and it houses galleries, studio space, and arts organizations like the Luminato festival.

Artscape Young PlaceMuch of the building's current identity stems from its origins as a school. The Koffler Gallery on the ground floor, for example, juxtaposes the mix of old and new spirits that characterize the building by hosting an exhibit in its hypermodern white space called "We're in the Library", which nods to the space's own roots. It's in what used to be the school library, and a hushed energy still exists there, silently asking all who enter to use their indoor voices.

20131220_590AndrewWilliamson_ArtscapeYOUNGPLACE_9141.jpgSmall children's voices, layered one on top of the other, read aloud stories about mermaids, fish and the supernatural from sets of headphones available to wear while looking at the visual works. One piece is cheekily sketched in chalk on a chalkboard, and another, spanning an entire wall, is inspired by colouring book pages of dinosaurs.

Artscape Young Place"We're in the Library" is made up of mixed media testimonies to the building's origin, and its creepiness level makes for a perfect tribute to the old school. The works currently on display, though, by Toronto artists Sara Angelucci, Barbara Astman, Adam David Brown, Michelle Gay, Ido Govrin, Vid Ingelevics, and Jon Sasaki, will only live in the gallery a little while longer. The space will soon be home to other pieces by both local and international artists.

Artscape Young PlaceWhile history is alive at 180 Shaw, the organization has brought its own creative spin to the space. The building itself inspires creative thinking, with the typically barren, spacious stairways at each end of the old school completely covered in whimsical vinyl wall art - smiley faces, word play and intricate abstract patterns are splashed up to the high ceiling thanks to makeovers by artists Debbie Adams, Melissa Fisher and Seth Scriver. The stairways inspire play - photographer (and apparent causeless rebel) Andrew Williamson starts reminiscing about letting bouncy balls loose in similar stairwells as a child.

Artscape Young PlaceWhat goes on behind closed doors is more interesting, though. People are churning out sparkly brain children every day, and the building is full of teachers and disciples. Paperhouse Studio on the ground floor conducts classes and workshops on how to press cotton, flax and hemp into unique sheets of textured paper. On the second floor, fresh with the chemical tang of fresh paint, Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith runs the Bellwoods Academy of Music. As we nose our way in around the corner of her door, she has just enough time to show off her small rehearsal space and grand piano before a small girl comes in with her mum for her after school lesson.

20131220_590AndrewWilliamson_ArtscapeYOUNGPLACE_9143.jpgThere are private studio spaces sprinkled throughout the old school too, but the 75,000 square foot building is designed to do more than just bring artists back to the now completely gentrified Queen West area. It offers a place for community gatherings with a public, open space on the first floor when you come in the door (complete with wifi).

Perhaps fittingly, the building's Coffee Pub is located in what used to be the guidance counselor's office, trendily stocking all local everything whenever humanly possible - treats come from the likes of OMG Baked Goodness, Owl and Goose Smoothies, Fresh Coffee Network, Rowe Farms, Woodlot, 100km Foods, and Green Shift, among others.

Artscape Young PlaceWhile many of the suites operated by businesses like the Bellwoods Academy of Music are outfitted with small kitchenettes and more than enough space to function as live/work, Artscape operates the building as strictly non-residential. Tenants do have 24/7 access, but after extensive neighbourhod consultation it became clear residents didn't want artists living in the building, ostensibly to stave off condo development.

Artscape Young PlaceAlongside the more permanent tenants, Independent artists come in and out of the building, too, using the space on an as-needed basis. Space is available for shows up to a month long for only about $500, or for an evening for about $60. There are independent gallery and work spaces available, and a communal one too, complete with tools like sewing machines and sergers. It's taken seven years, $17-million dollars, and countless hours of brainstorming, but Shaw Street School's childlike spirit is alive and well again after a long, quiet hiatus.

View more photos of Artscape's Youngplace in this gallery.

Photos by Andrew Williamson



iSkyscraper / January 6, 2014 at 11:46 am
Stunning adaptive re-use. Bravo.

And this is what makes Toronto a great and vibrant city. Compare to what happens to former elementary schools of similar vintage in places like Detroit or Chicago:

Of course, the school could have always gone condo -- here is one of the best examples of a converted elementary school in New York:

But very happy with the Artscape result, since condos are a dime a dozen but cultural spaces hard to come by. Well done.
Bob replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm
Well, PS1.
todd / January 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm
iSkyscraper, while I agree that this is a great project, let's not pat ourselves on the back too much. Why is there always a need to hold ourselves over others? There are many examples of similar converted affordable artist spaces in cities like NY and Chicago. Arguably, Detroit doesn't need such conversions as space is already dirt cheap. As well, there are many more examples of schools converted to condos throughout Ontario then to worthy projects such as this. What is troubling is the housing costs in the city as a whole for those who aren't lucky enough to get into such projects as this. We're essentially compartmentalizing art to these buildings. Nonethless, any affordable housing, for artists or others, is welcome.
Claire / January 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm
Thank you from Artscape for a wonderful article! We're so glad you came by and captured so much of the spirit of the building. This article touches on some facts about the early stages of development. For anyone wishing in-depth information about Artscape Youngplace's shared vision with the local community, it's all detailed on our new website for Artscape Youngplace, at
duder replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / January 6, 2014 at 01:08 pm
Yes, because they oh so much need your approval.
iSkyscraper / January 6, 2014 at 01:11 pm
Yes, excellent note about PS1 and similar spaces. My point was not necessarily that this is an original concept as much as a well-done execution. I was just trying to highlight what sometimes happens to charming old school buildings and that Toronto, for all its well-publicized struggles, is doing some things very right.

What's next for Artscape?
Myles / January 6, 2014 at 09:37 pm
Great article! It would be really nice if the article also included credit to the Architects and designers of the school renovation. Teeple Architects did the renovation of the original school, and Williams Craig Design was hired to design the public corridor & gatherings spaces
BillyO / January 7, 2014 at 09:40 am
Nice feature. Congrats to Artscape on a job well done.
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