Arts Platform Aims To Curb Gentrification

Artscape Wychwood Barns photo by artefatica is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A project that provides affordable live/work spaces for artists in Toronto, Canada

Groundstory began tackling the precarious work and housing situations faced by the arts community in Ontario in 2017.

Groundstory is billed as a collective action of the arts that aims to understand how artists and culture workers are affected by gentrification and to figure out ways to make more accessible and affordable neighbourhoods. The process to get there is pretty organic, compared with your average everyday business plan. Ideas from around the world will be considered. Decisions on what will and won’t go into the plan will be made democratically, based on input from multiple stakeholders. A ‘theory of change’ is part of the process too.

Funders are frequently asking for a theory of change in grant applications. It’s a way for applicants to demonstrate joined up thinking, by linking a project proposal to a recognized idea of how change occurs. A theory that housing with supports will help to reduce homelessness in community x would support a project to build housing. It wouldn’t support a project to add park benches in the town square.

Groundstory received funding to develop a theory of change through its process to bring systemic change to the housing and work situations of arts and culture workers. The current trial theory of change is “75% of artists/culture workers are satisfied with their shelter and place of work by 2030”. It is presented as a draft and might be considered closer to a goal than a theory of change. Still, given the organic nature of this project, you don’t want to “push” the process by stating the theory of change too early.

Affordable housing for arts and culture workers is not a new idea in Toronto. Artscape, which began in 1986, is a community based organization that develops and manages housing for artists. Indeed Groundstory itself is based in Queen Triangle Lofts, an Artscape project.

So how is Groundstory getting on with its project?

It has established that gentrification is the issue. In a grass roots organic movement, the choice of gentrification allows a wide range of questions to be considered. When compared with affordable housing, Groundstory’s work could go in a lot of different directions.

It is investigating interventions and policies to mitigate the growth of income inequality and arts/culture displacement. Admirable approach. It’s surprising how often someone else has already thought up and tested most ideas. It also means you can avoid ideas that haven’t panned out elsewhere.

Groundstory’s process is intended to connect independent operators and ‘de-silo’ individual initiatives. De-siloing would ensure that groups working on similar activities, or having similar goals, are connected and benefiting from each other’s work. The Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness is such a platform for agencies and community groups to work together to enhance their individual actions. De-siloing also echoes the mission of Artspond, Groundstory’s sponsor. Artspond aims to improve on existing arts and culture organizational structures by creating a platform for artistic innovation that is accessible to all.

Toronto has its challenges with housing affordability, ‘displacement’ and ‘inclusive neighbourhoods’.

Displacement occurs when people move out of an area due to circumstances beyond their control. An example is someone who wants to downsize in the neighbourhood where they live, but there are no suitable units.

Inclusive refers to diversity and is often assessed by the range of incomes or ethnicity in an area.

The rising housing and land costs affecting artists are also affecting service industry workers, people on fixed incomes and people who live with mental illness. A host of community agencies support people who have been swept aside. Hopefully Groundstory’s work will extend beyond arts and culture and benefit the broader ‘excluded’ community. For a story about artists who intervened to stop displacement trends in Houston, try: From Art Inspiration To Social Justice Response: A Houston Single Mother Housing Support Program

Artspond is active on the web and social media. Groundstory can be reached at 647 920-6187.