Toronto’s east end is poised for a cultural renaissance

Torontos east end could be heading towards another cultural boom thanks to some gutsy entrepreneurs, well-organized community groups and collaborative developers. In recent years, much of the city’s arts activity has focused heavily on west end venues and communities. But creative minds east of the Don are set to expand their role in the arts scene.

These are some of the promising arts and culture developments that we can’t wait to see and experience in 2017.

After more than 30 years of staging award-winning theatre productions in venues across the city, Crow’s Theatre finally has a permanent home. Located at Dundas East and Carlaw, Streetcar Crowsnest features a range of inspired performance spaces and amenities: the Guloien Theatre and the Scotiabank Community Studio, plus a lobby bar and new restaurant, Gare de L’est. DTAH Architects, known for their work on Evergreen Brickworks and Wychwood Barns, designed the venue to meet the needs of an innovative and inclusive creative community.

The 2017 Crow’s Theatre season kicks off in the new venue on January 12 with The Wedding Party. Check out the company’s full season offerings here, including True Crime (above) starring rocker Torquil Campbell from Stars.

For most live music lovers in the east end, a night out almost always means waiting for a ride from the TTC, strategically timing your Uber or searching endlessly for downtown parking. But according to a report from Good Hood this past summer, those who live in the Beaches, Leslieville and Riverdale might soon have another walking-distance option besides The Opera House and Danforth Music Hall.

A cover letter accompanying the development application to the City states that “there would be about 150 live performance events a year and that the facility would not otherwise be open for any other purpose.” Are you ready to rock, Queen East?

Having recently emerged from a long period of renovation and reconstruction, the heritage facade of the Broadview Hotel is sure to attract attention as an architectural gateway to the east end. A recent Vimeo upload highlights the final phase of transformation. Formerly the home of Jilly’s Strip Club, the 125-year-old building will feature a 58-room boutique hotel, a lobby bar, private event spaces and a restaurant from Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli (Ascari Enoteca, Hi-Lo Bar).

Reclaiming the hotel and its amenities as part of the current cultural scene will support the east end’s vibrant new outlook. And it doesn’t hurt that the hotel exterior looks great too.

To some west enders, the Jam Factory could seem like an unassuming brick building tucked into a pocket of land beside an onramp to the DVP and it is. But just a block off Queen East, it’s an accessible event space with a beautiful heritage vibe that complements a wide range of purposes. As we recently reported, the Jam Factory has big plans for 2017.

The 3,000-square-foot event space has set its sights on Mardi Gras in late-February for a grand reopening: “We have a lot of connections with New Orleans-style jazz bands so we’re going to launch with that,” says Kris Light, one of the partners behind the venue revamp. For east enders, it means a great central location for parties and cultural events is on the horizon.

Earlier this month, the City of Toronto hosted an info session for East York and Beach creative community members to learn more about participating in a neighbourhood-specific Cultural Hotspot program.

From May to October this year, the multifaceted initiative will fund cultural activities through five outlets: Signature (partnerships between the City and local arts organizations), SPARK (seed funding for diverse emerging artists), Community (support through meet-ups and publicity), HOT Eats (gift certificate campaign for local eateries) and Cultural Loops Guide (self-guided tours that highlight local landmarks and businesses).

Entering its sixth year as an east end-specific food/arts/music event series, Feast in the East takes a DIY stance in celebrating local arts. Our 2016 interview with co-founder Tad Michelak highlighted the series’ intentional focus on the east end an aspiration that predates the current cultural shift from west to east: “theres a lot of great stuff and people out here, so we want to expose people to that,” says Michelak.

The first event of the year is coming on January 20 at the Matt Durant Studio. While there’s a distinct 20-something appeal to these events, all ages are welcome and the affordable ticket price helps encourage a great turnout each time.

This Canada-wide initiative draws upon funding from corporate sponsors and the federal government to spur participation in arts and culture on a face-to-face community level. 2016 saw numerous events and projects occur all across Toronto, with a surprising number of them in the east end. This should be heartening to arts-loving audiences east of the Don, not to mention professional and emerging artists seeking new opportunities on a public stage.

Whether it’s printmaking demos, calligraphy lessons or interactive theatre activities, this year’s Culture Days (running September 29 to October 1) will go a long way in showcasing the talent-rich creative potential of Toronto’s rapidly evolving east end.

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