Articles, Blog

401: For Everybody


I’m very inspired by the ideas of Jane
Jacobs and she always talked about the importance of diversity in an ecosystem
in a city so I wanted it to be more than just arts there to be interaction
between different people doing different things… and she talked about how
important old buildings are in the city not fine museum pieces not, you know,
things that have been restored and fixed up to the nth degree but old plain
ordinary buildings that have had their capital costs written down and can
afford the work of the artist and the writer and the scientific inventor all
those things that don’t generate a great deal of money but that are really
important to the functioning of a city and to its economic development cultural
development etc and she said she’s really important to keep these old
buildings interspersed within the city because that’s where new ideas come from.
We are trying to visually connect people with each other so there were a lot of
areas – like you’ll notice all the fire stairs have magnetic hold open doors so
that you can see into them from the hallway. We opened up the courtyard,
there’s a bridge across that has all glass that was an old structure that was
covered in metal but we pulled off the metal and put in glass. All of these
things to try and increase the connections that people might have but
also just so there’d be that serendipity that people would run into each other. We’ve been doing this for 23 years and
you know I think it’s a pretty great place. I like coming here to work every
day, I like the people that I run into and I think, you know, it’s a little
bit of a different world than a lot of the world is out there in the sense that
people’s main drives are not financial and money.
I always thought owning the building would be enough, it would be protecting
us from gentrification but I didn’t realize that the taxes would come in the
end to bite us and what – well it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy now. Taxes are
based on what the building would sell for today which is about a multiple of
40 times what we purchased it for. Right now there are a lot of wonderful
collaborations and synergies going on in this building – we have 150 tenants – and
that would be lost for sure, and that’s another thing with this tax system is
that that kind of thing happens in gentrification but, you know, you don’t
need to make it even worse by putting- laying the taxes on top of it and
really losing the – the ecosystem here will be lost. Tangled arts plus disability is a
disability arts organization and art gallery dedicated to showcasing artists
with disabilities, deaf artists, mad identified artists. It was always
something we wanted to have was our own exhibition space because that has been a
challenge in the past for our community was kind of accessing exhibition space
that was accessible. We had been working out of the 401 building for many
years. For a while it was a basically a storage locker in the basement and that
was when it was still Abilities Art Festival, so the Tangled Art Gallery
is fully accessible meaning that all of our doors are push-button operated, our
paintings and art are hung at 42 inches which is lower than industry standard
to ensure that both seated guests and of lower stature and can enjoy the art. Thousands of people involved in arts and
culture sector all over the world come through this building so it’s a great
kind of centralized place for arts and culture in Canada. So at Tangled, disability
art for us is promoting the work of artists living with disability so either
deaf, mad, or disability identified and and it promotes their work and gives them
opportunities that they might not have at a commercial gallery. So because we
are publicly funded we’re able to pay artists to show here which allows
artists who maybe aren’t making as much money that opportunity and disability arts
is also giving those opportunities but not necessarily giving them because somebody is disability identified but giving them because they’re incredible
artists and their disability identification is one aspect of who they
are as a person. Hi, I’m Steve Kean. I am a photographer
artist, I do commercial photography as well. I’ve got a long history from –
with Tangled Disability Art, long before they were called Tangled… and I’ll never
forget at the first exhibition the person who had – she had just retired she
was no longer – she was the first artistic director of Tangled, Sharon – Sharon Wolfe
of the abilities Arts Festival – she came to my exhibition, she came to Strange
Beauty and saw all of the shows. She went into my exhibition and there were so
many people in there I couldn’t even get in. It was – it was just an amazing night. It
was just jam-packed. She came out of my show in tears and was moved by the work
and that just made me feel like “wow I’m on
the right track I’m doing something really cool here” and so between Gallery
44 and Tangled it’s been amazing. Tangled has been incredibly supportive.
They gave me my first opportunity to show in a mainstream gallery space. In
2015 the vision for the festival, the vision
for the show that Tangled was putting on was called Strange Beauty and the whole
idea behind it was getting the work of disabled artists – and I use that term
specifically, we can talk about more on that later –
using, you know, it’s getting the work of disabled artists into mainstream gallery
spaces and getting it in front of the public and I had an opportunity to show
my work in the Abbozzo gallery upstairs here at 401 Richmond. It was a very very
exciting opportunity, a great place to be the first place to show Spina Bifida:
Front to Back. Spina Bifida: Front to Back, wow, that’s a long story I hope you
have lots of film, haha! I grew up living with spina bifida, I have
friends who grew up with spina bifida and hydrocephalus together and so it’s
something that I can relate to, those experiences I can relate to. You know, I
grew up with people staring at me, looking at me differently and girls in
high school not treating me like other guys, like, you know, they weren’t
seeing me as somebody that can date, or you know, I was – that they – I was a friend so it was just a
different thing growing up that way and I thought… I grew up thinking that I, you
know, I wasn’t desirable, I wasn’t handsome, I wasn’t beautiful, and so I
thought let’s – let’s look at the idea of beauty. I wanted – I want to expand the
idea of beauty. I want people to – I want the general public to say – to have a
wider definition of what’s beautiful and I thought what better way than
portraying people with spina bifida in a beautiful way and so what the project is
all about is it’s two portraits of each person. One is a typical front-on
portrait against a white background in colour that you would see – you know, that
anybody would go to a portrait studio or be part of an art show. The other one, the
other portrait is a completely different thing. It’s an intimate artistic portrait
of their back in black and white against the black background lit to show the
curves and the form and to show somebody’s back with spina bifida which
is the source of their disability in a beautiful way, you know.
Photography allows me to create images and pictures the only way that I can.
When I was growing up I think there was a part of me that always knew that there
was an artist in here somewhere but I failed art class. I couldn’t make my
hands do what the teacher needed me to do. My hand-eye coordination is not what
it should be – if you see my handwriting it’s terrible – and so to draw, to paint, to
do those things with my hands-on, I couldn’t do it and then a friend of the
family came over over the camera one day and I picked it up and I could create an
image, I could create a beautiful image. I can say what I want to say without
having to be able to draw on paint. It’s the first thing I picked up as a
teenager and didn’t put away a month later and never stopped and
I will never stop. I can’t stop. 401 Richmond, which I discovered quite by
mistake like a lot of people. Just walking by and wondering what this behemoth
building is all about in the middle of downtown. Had some time on my lunch
hour and I came wandering in and my jaw just dropped. You know, I felt like I was
home. I know this is a place where if you appreciate the Arts even in the smallest
way and it doesn’t matter what form of art – whether it’s music, or photography, or
painting – you walk through these halls and you can just feel the history, you
can see amazing work being created and shared and people who create the work
willing to talk to you and share how – they share what they’re doing and then you hear the stuff about this
tax hike and you think about this place going away. This place becoming another
glass and steel corporate headquarters and it just makes you want to cry.
The arts is disappearing from a place where it’s easy to access for people who
use wheelchairs, people like me, easy to get to for tourists. This place can’t
disappear, it just can’t. How can they move out now? I mean, this is – this was
meant to be amortized over a five or ten year period. All those donors are
expecting that they’re going to be there for five or ten years but if the taxes
are going to drive them out, you know, it’s a really catch-22 situation. It’s
not just that they can up and leave and go somewhere less expensive, now. It’s
just – I don’t understand it because I don’t think any other business could
operate this way. How can the tax people come to us at the end of November
beginning of December and say “guess what! in a month your taxes are going to
double” I was really crestfallen. We’ve been fighting for four years already, w e
got a bad assessment in 2012. We’ve been fighting that silently and we absorb
the taxes for the tenants in those four years but going forward if we start
doing – if we continue doing that we will run a deficit this year and by 2020 our
deficit will be well over a million dollars.
To build towers and higher towers and higher towers and now the sky is the
limit and everybody wants to build one because land is only as valuable as
MPAC says it is if it’s got a condominium on it. So it’s – I fear for
this area. I fear that it will be depleted quite quickly and that – I don’t
think it will be a pleasant place to live when everybody’s, you know, 60 storey
tower by 60 storey tower by jowls. It’s not very diverse it’s not very interesting. That’s it.

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