After 30-plus years of bouncing from venue to venue, the performing-arts organization broke ground today at its new permanent home in Queen West’s Carnegie Library building.
For over 30 years, The Theatre Centre has served as a home for groundbreaking projects and artists in Toronto. And today, it broke ground once again—only this time, it was for a home of its own.
“It feels like a wedding,” announced The Theatre Centre’s Artistic and General Director Franco Boni from the steps of the historical Carnegie Library at Queen West and Lisgar, a former health centre and future West Queen West arts hub. “So I say, ‘I do.’”
Today marked the beginning of a year-long, $6.2 million renovation that will turn the 104-year-old library into The Theatre Centre’s permanent headquarters; the organization has bounced between 10 different rental locations since 1979. Opening next October, the building will consist of new additions such as art galleries, a 200-seat performance venue, a green roof, a glass-walled lobby café, and affordable rehearsal spaces for emerging performers. But more than just a home for artists, there will be various community programs operating within The Theatre Centre, which has secured a 25-year lease of the building from the City of Toronto.
The condition of Toronto’s theatres has been a major topic of conversation recently, with former Factory Theatre artistic director Ken Gass’s desire to turn that space into a theatre hub leading to his dismissal. More recently, David Mirvish and Frank Gehry have polarized Torontonians with their bold new plan for King Street West strip, which calls for demolishing the Princess of Wales theatre in order to build three 80-plus-storey condo buildings. The renovations for the new Theatre Centre location are a much-needed boost to Toronto theatre, especially through its strong ties to new work, young artists, and community initiatives.
“Welcoming the community in—that’s what I’m looking forward to most,” Boni tells The Grid. “It’s going to give the artistic community a home for research and development projects, and for the community a hub, a living room. That’s what I hope it becomes.”
With combined funding from individuals, private sponsors, and public supporters, Boni says the Centre has already raised 84 per cent of the renovation costs. Private donors include TD Bank, Urbancorp, and the George Cedric Metcalf Foundation. Public funding comes from all three levels of government: $1.8 million in support from the Department of Heritage Canada, $1.2 million from the Province of Ontario, a $500,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and $1 million from the City of Toronto.
Though he was scheduled to attend, Mayor Rob Ford sent his best wishes in a letter read by Ward 18-Davenport Councillor Ana Bailão. Bailão herself spoke about the relationship between the new centre and its surrounding neighbourhood on West Queen West.
“Artists have been in this community for a long, long time—to the point that it started attracting developers to this neighbourhood. But the community is smart enough to know that they could coexist,” Bailão says. “There’s going to be a huge arts cluster in this neighbourhood, and this is a statement that this community wants to thank our artists, wants to keep our artists, and wants to see them thrive in our city.”