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Creating an artistic community in unsuspecting places

Toronto has been through an ebb and flow regarding its artistic spaces. Being an independent maker in the city can often mean facing displacement, high costs and ultra-tight quarters. Consequently, many artists have been forced to seek new hubs. Addressing this need, Industrial Arts offers a solution. This 5-acre working site in southern Markham features three industrial-zoned buildings, each about 30,000 square feet, providing ample space for artistic endeavours.

Industrial Arts

An exterior shot of Industrial Arts, with a glimpse the sculptural work of Nicholas Fleming. Photography by Darren Rigo.

Among the current tenants are fabricators, importers, print shops, and other light industrial uses. After over 40 years of serving this tenant base, family ownership is now in the hands of the next generation: former art critic and creative entrepreneur Andrea Carson Barker.

Since 2018, Carson Barker, alongside her team of collaborators including development consultant John Lee of Arcade Projects, curator-in-residence Yuluo Wei, and a newly founded not-for-profit organization, Steelcase Art Projects (SAP), has been drafting a new vision for the site. This vision involves three phases of revitalization to transform Industrial Arts into an entrepreneurial community where everything is seen through an artistic lens.

Markham creative hub

Looking into one of the spacious soon-to-be studio spaces. Photography by Darren Rigo.

Working with tenants and the surrounding industrial community, the team aims to connect business to the arts through the sharing of knowledge and skills. Organizing the works and exhibits around the Industrial Arts site is SAP, whose mandate is to transform the industrial realm through artistic experimentation including collaborations, commissions, and projects.

SAP aims to engage communities in experiencing and supporting creativity within the industrial realm. The team is driven to make every aspect of Industrial Arts a place for experimentation, creating an environment that encourages collaboration and empowerment.

Nicholas Fleming

Sculptural work by Nicholas Fleming. Photography by Darren Rigo.

Its first event in 2023 included the launch of the Industrial Arts Sculpture Garden with a work by Quebec artist Nicolas Fleming that incorporated renovation materials such as spray foam and drywall. This was followed by a pop-up exhibition in January 2024 called “Site Unseen” which featured precise cast metal replicas of industrial objects by Zeke Moores accompanied by photographs of overlooked spaces by Steven Laurie.

Now the Sculpture Garden is hosting a new exhibition called “Corn = Life,” a garden work by Ron Benner and Jeff Thomas that delves deep into Indigenous history by way of native plantings—something infrequently in the industrial realm. It is curated by Yuluo Wei with community programming facilitated by SAP’s placemaking coordinator Max Morgia. Open to the public from June 23 to October 26, SAP invites local volunteers, artists, and patrons to paint and decorate tables to align with the theme of native plants in the sculpture. The showcase will end with an autumnal community corn roast.

Industrial Arts

Works from Zeke Moores and Steven Laurie’s “Site Unseen” exhibition. Photography by Darren Rigo.

SAP is also planning a group exhibition for this fall on the theme of ‘Waste’ at Industrial Arts. This curated pop-up exhibition will be held inside one of the vacant industrial units and will run for a few months only.

“This exhibition will be about reimagining and facing the waste that we all produce and will take place in the unit currently being renovated for lease as generously sized, subsidized art studios. So, this space will be partially demolished in time for the show and the detritus will add to the theme. Once the show is done, the renovation will continue, and the studios will become available to artists in early 2025,” says Carson Barker.

Industrial Arts

The Breath of Origin exhibition by Vladimir Kanic and Joy Wong. Curated by Yuluo Anita Wei. Photograph courtesy of Industrial Arts.

For businesses looking to transition to a collaborative and creative space, Industrial Arts has a variety of industrial units ready for lease. The first space, over 5,000 sq. ft., has been renovated to suit creative studios like millworkers and ceramicists, or any other tenant that would benefit from showroom and warehouse space.

The property’s current zoning allows for studios, fabrication, production, art storage, and showrooms, with plans for future rezoning to allow for accessory uses including retail and gallery spaces. Carson Barker also intends to revitalize the site through the creation of additional landscaped areas.

There are opportunities for makers, designers, and artists—and the lovers of all three—stay tuned to Industrial Arts’ website and Instagram feed for regular updates, or better yet sign up for the community newsletter.

For more information on Industrial Arts, visit ARTSINDUSTRIAL.COM

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