Pied Carré leads the fight to preserve artist spaces in the St-Viateur East area of Mile End
Mile End is well known for its cafés, restaurants and hipster venues, but today it’s increasingly recognized for industrial buildings that have become corporate-cultural hybrids. The Ubisoft building, located in the St-Viateur East district, is perhaps the most obvious example of this phenomenon, but the twin schmata buildings on de Gaspé are actually a better representation of the hybrid in practice.
St-Viateur East has the highest concentration of artists and cultural workers in an urban area in Canada, with over 800 artists and cultural workers based there. The infamous 5455 de Gaspé building, with its prevalence of ateliers, jam spaces and festival offices, houses over 200 artists and cultural workers amongst its commercial lease tenants, making over 30 percent of the building’s surface area dedicated to art or cultural endeavours.
However, since commercial leases are completely unregulated (that is, prices are dictated by the market and not any form of rent control), artists and cultural workers have no stability when it comes to maintaining a foothold in these loft spaces. Which is why Pied Carré, a non-profit community collective made up of dedicated citizens hoping to protect the diversity of the St-Viateur East area, was concerned when it learned that the big Toronto real estate development corporation, Allied Properties, owners of the Ubisoft building, had also bought the 5455 de Gaspé building for close to $37 million – almost five times what it sold for in 2008. Pied Carré spokesperson Raphaëlle Aubin insists that it’s crucial to get a commitment from the municipal and provincial governments to find a solution to skyrocketing rents.
"The city prizes its artistic and cultural capital, but doesn’t invest in physical spaces," she says. "What makes Montreal a cultural metropolis are the unglamourous spaces that can’t be put on a poster."
Pied Carré sent out letters to the city, high-level politicians and Allied Properties itself. "We expressed the need to work together to find solutions for both property owners and renting artists," she confirms, "and the response was very encouraging, with both the city and property owners expressing a desire to meet with us to immediately get started on collaborative solutions."
Despite this bit of good news, Aubin maintains that artists’ security in the area is far from a fait accompli. "It’s clear that the city needs to act. They’ve done their homework, they’ve sponsored studies, they’ve come up with a list of recommendations to preserve artist spaces, which were adopted by the Executive Committee – but the policies need to be put into action."
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