toronto art galleries

The current state of Toronto's art gallery scene

Anyone who lives in Toronto kind of knows the deal when it comes to art galleries.

Typically they move into a neighbourhood people aren't totally familiar or comfortable with, slowly people start flocking, coffee shops spill in, condo developers break ground and the galleries move out to another lesser known, cheaper spot.

It's the circle of life for galleries in general and Toronto is no exception to the nomadic migration. But that's not what's interesting.

Toronto's west end is most definitely experiencing the next art gallery gentrification swing and combined with that excitement is a brave new sense of community. There's something exciting happening in the city's art gallery world that overshadows real estate woes.

"I think despite real estate going up and it being hard to find places like this in the city where you can do things without spending a lot of money, there still is an interesting grass roots scene that people just make happen and that's important," says Andrew Williamson, owner for Black Cat Artspace.

"Now more than ever stakeholders... see the value in drawing people to places and changing their mind about certain spaces," he continues. Williamson goes on to talk about other former industrial spaces that are currently looking to be used by artists while they're in an interstitial phase prior to redevelopment.

"Luminato using the Hearn kind of set a great example of that. There still are these old buildings from the industrial age in Toronto that haven't been converted or adapted."

Williamson's artist-run, grassroots art space on Dundas West near Roncesvalles was one of the first beacons of new life and energy on the strip three years ago. He had been running art shows and events out of his loft with two roommates years prior, but decided to take the leap and open up his open space to encourage new and exciting works from local artists and photographers.

He and four other alternative art spaces will be throwing a new type of Art Fair and Party at Artscape Sandbox this September, to draw more attention to the artists who show in these more grassroots spaces.

To further Williamson's point, what's going on in Toronto right now is we have our traditional three tiers of art galleries (institutions at the top, then commercial galleries, the artist run centres) and though traditionally it was the grassroots galleries who were taking the biggest chances - and let's be real, they still are - the scene is moving towards a trend where every level of gallery is trying bold new things and spaces. More than ever before.

"I think there's a new energy," Daniel Faria, own of Daniel Faria Gallery on Helen's Avenue in Bloordale says. "I think the galleries are becoming more ambitious, the spaces are more interesting, the spaces are bigger so it's not like they moved from one tiny storefront to another."

Faria moved into what used to be an auto body shop from his co-run spot in the Distillery District. "When I moved here everyone thought I was nuts, but now that there's a concentration of galleries," he says excitedly as he described how weekends now see streams of people poking in and out of the gallery.

"Cooper Cole moved into that Portuguese bank on Dupont, there's a lot more warehouse space like me and Clint [Roenisch], so i think the space has physically changed which allows the artist to do more interesting things, pushes them to be more ambitious."

Not only are gallery spaces getting more fun and crazy, in part thanks to this, artists can get crazier too. The relationship seems to be evolving into something more adventurous that what Toronto's art scene is used to.

"I think there's also this blurring of the galleries," Faria says. "Years ago the commercial galleries felt very commercial because they were selling works that were easier to sell, prettier paintings. But now galleries are getting ambitious with spaces and also with their exhibitions and doing installations.

"The commercial galleries are taking way more chances, which would only happen in museums or not-for profit spaces, which is really exciting."

Williamson, who's always existed in an inclusive world of blurring lines and experimentation to makes things work shares the buzzy feeling.

"Art galleries and art spaces help the city grow and help it become what it is by changing people's opinions on places" he says. "It's fun to be part of that process."

Photo from the Surface II party Facebook page.

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