The restaurant explosion has happened, and now this week’s opening of Hashtag Gallery suggests Dundas and Bathurst should prepare for the next phase of its gentrification.
The stretch of Dundas just west of Bathurst has been transformed over the last 18 months by an influx of red-hot restaurants and, as of this week, Toronto foodies will have the chance to browse a curated selection of local art while they patiently wait for a table at Campagnolo or L’Ouvrier.
The newest kid on the block between Markham and Palmerston is Hashtag Gallery, an upstart space that’s primed for a grand opening party this Thursday night.
The gallery’s co-founder, Graeme Luey, is a veteran of the Toronto art scene who studied art fundamentals at Sheridan College and spent four years immersed in graphic design at OCAD. He has since exhibited in various group shows at The Gladstone Gallery and helped to set up XPACE Cultural Centre through the OCAD student union.
Hashtag is his first attempt at building a gallery from the ground up. Like many other young creative types, he’s spent the past few years working multiple gigs to support his passion.
“I work as a [freelance] graphic designer, and I had a part-time job on the side,” Luey says. “I thought, ‘Why am I working part-time making 10 bucks an hour when I can work to help pay my rent with something that I want to be doing?’ So I decided to just create my own job.”
Luey says he routinely strolled past what’s now the gallery space at 801 Dundas St. W. on his weekend walks to his Toronto Kickball league in nearby Alexandra Park, which, co-incidentally, is where he first met Hashtag Gallery co-founders Johnny Hollick and Charlie Jurczynski. Between the three of them, they’re collaborating on the curation, the planning of events, and the gallery’s finances. But first, they had to reinvent the building, once a hair salon, into a proper gallery space.
“The landlord was very open to us doing minor renovations to fix the building up,” says Luey. “The inside has been redone, which was a lot harder than it looks. But we got it smoothed it out—we’ve got some good hanging spaces now.”
The walls are up, and Luey wants to fill them with the work of emerging young artists who lack the support to break into the city’s more established galleries.
“A lot of people do art, but they don’t do it full-time,” he says. “I feel we can be one of those places that [helps] push people to go out and actually have a show, and say, ‘Hey, you can sell your work. This is a legitimate way to make money. It’s a profession that people do.’ I want to promote artists and get them to start promoting themselves.”
This week’s opening group show is a sneak peak at the work of a selection of artists that Hashtag Gallery will be representing, and Luey’s creative vision for the space is a hotbed for expression that’s liberated from strict thematic constraints.
“They’re making work for themselves, so I’m not going to tell them what to do,” he says. “I’m not going to be the kind of curator who comes in and says, ‘The entire show has to be blue and green, and you’ve got to paint pictures of flowers!”
Luey does, however, have a few strict rules for the how space is used: No rock shows, dance parties, spelling bees, or any other late-night ventures thrown in recent years by start-up galleries trying to court Toronto’s art-partying youth.
“We’re not trying to do that at all,” he says. “I want this place to come across as a gallery that’s very centered on the art. We’re going to make it look really nice, so people starting out can show at a place that’s not seen as a boozecan or a place that [throws] sweaty basement parties. I want to give people a chance to promote themselves in an environment that looks good.”
With the way the neighbourhood is changing, Hashtag Gallery is a natural fit, but it also suggests that perhaps the Dundas West restaurant boom could be about to cool off a touch.
“Places around here keep popping up, and the landlord here didn’t want a restaurant moving in because there’s too many around. He was like, ‘We want a gallery to move in,’ and I said, ‘Perfect!’”
Hashtag Gallery’s Grand Opening Party is Thursday, April 12. Free. Guests must RSVP to RSVP@hashtaggallery.com. 8 p.m.