distillery district

Distillery District causes uproar over plan to turf 70 artists from their Toronto studios

Working artist studios, that make the Distillery District a unique and special place to visit, may be gone this spring.

Since the Distillery District opened in 2003, there have been artists working and displaying pieces for sale. The developers had a "dream was to provide a place where creativity would flourish and passion would be aroused – where artists, artisans, entrepreneurs and businesspeople could rub shoulders and inspire each other," according to the Distillery District.

Now about 70 artisans got notice that they have to leave by the end of March, Hoi-An Tang, owner of Mehoi tells blogTO. The artists and artisans knew they would have to leave the space next year but originally the date was August.

With lockdowns impacting all businesses, the artists with a combined studio and retail space hoped to hang around until 2023 to make up some lost revenue.

"We really were counting on the retail aspect, the essentially the income from 2022 to help facilitate all of our moves," she says.

Ceramic artist Susan Card has been in the building for 15 years when the Distillery District was just starting to earn the reputation it has now. The artist's hub draws people to the Distillery.

"The Distillery built its reputation on restaurants, art galleries, artists, studios, and now they have that 20-year reputation and they don't need us any longer. So they're not renewing our lease," says Card.

The move also comes at a really bad time when the artists are busy with the holiday rush.

"We work six days a week, during the Christmas season, until the end of December, we're required to be open long hours. So we really cannot even begin to look for anything (a new studio space) until later," Card says.

The lease was always slated to end in 2022 – a decision established 20 years ago when they signed with the owners of the Distillery, Kelly Rintoul, chief operating officer for Artscape tells blogTO.

"The property owners signalled interest in ending this lease a few months earlier to advance plans for a French language school on site," Rintoul said in a statement.

The property owners didn't immediately respond to blogTO's requests for comment.

Artscape explored 20 different properties as alternatives for the artists but couldn't get enough interest to support a head lease at a new building in the Distillery. 

To help the artisans during lockdowns, Artscape applied for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, resulting in $251,000 in rent abatement for their tenants in the Distillery.

"Despite limited resources as a non-profit organization, Artscape contributed 25 per cent of this value as a requirement of the program," Rintoul says.

They also offered a rent-free period in their Case Good Warehouse for February and March to help in the transition to new space.

But the loss of artists in the Distillery is really heart-breaking. While the word is that a school will move into the studios, some artists believe that it will likely be converted to condos at some point, Card says.

"All of the artists survived C*V*D but we can't survive the urban sprawl, you know," says Card.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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