Akin Collective responds to local artists’ need for affordable studio space
As the city’s funding body for artists and arts organizations, Toronto Arts Council hears from artists and arts leaders that finding spaces to live and work are becoming increasingly unaffordable – a growing issue across all sectors in the GTA, but one particularly relevant to the arts, where venues to create and show work are often expensive.
Founded in 2008, Akin Collective is a Toronto-based arts organization that aims to fill that void by providing affordable studio space and arts-based programming through sister non-profit Akin Projects (which offers professional development opportunities, creative workshops, and community engagement projects). Initially founded by artist Oliver Pauk and furniture designer Michael Dellios in a small loft on Queen West, the organization has since grown into the largest provider of shared artist studios in the city.
"Akin now provides low-cost rental space to nearly 400 visual artists, designers and other creatives and arts groups," says Akin co-director Michael Vickers, who joined the Akin team in 2011. "The studios maintain a friendly and inspiring atmosphere where people can work on artistic endeavours and entrepreneurial undertakings of all kinds. The idea is the same as it was when we began: things are better if we are working together."
Entirely artist-run, Akin is overseen by a small team of 11 artists and now offers studio space at nine locations across the city, gradually adding locations over the years as demand for affordable workspace continued to rise.
This past March, Akin partnered with TAC to open REMOTE Gallery, a dedicated programming and exhibition space at 568 Richmond St. W. that provides low-cost space for artists and the public for exhibits and artistic programming. In partnership with Toronto Arts Foundation’s Neighbourhood Arts Network, Akin also offers opportunities for newcomer artists to grow their art practice and professional network through the RBC Space Award.
Everyone is welcome at Akin regardless of skill level or experience (only the Akin Studio Program at the Museum of Contemporary Art requires an application), and the organization is committed to equity and inclusion. Shared studio membership is $70 a month and dedicated studio spaces range from $100-$1,000 per month depending on space, with all rents including taxes, insurance, wi-fi, utilities, and 24/7 access. Rents are also month-to-month to allow for flexibility.
Given the current economic realities in the city that has seen live-work spaces and other vital venues close, Akin’s team is dedicated to finding ways for artists to continue their practice in a sustainable way.
"'Affordable' is a relative term, and I think we've seen it used by others in Toronto to describe studio rental rates that aren't actually viable for working artists. As artists ourselves, we're very much aware of the reality of the situation and the dire need for creative solutions to the space crisis," Vickers points out.
That also means forging relationships with all levels of government and likeminded arts organizations – not only has Akin developed connections with key departments at City Hall as well as local MPs and MPPs, they’ve also advised on the City’s TOcore planning and presented to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage about new ways for creating artist space.
"We'd hope for more information-sharing between organizations and City departments so that artists and non-profits can more easily access unused property owned by the City itself, continued work on the property tax subclass, and generally just a greater willingness by all to think outside the box before more artists find the situation in Toronto untenable and leave," Vickers says.
Vickers, who’s also a 2019 TAC Leaders Lab Fellow, hopes Akin’s work can help support fellow artists across the city, but stresses more advocacy is needed from everyone who cares about the arts.
"Across the entire arts sector, beyond just the visual artists we primarily support, we are hearing that we are at a crisis point for affordable space in the city," he says. "As a small, growing organization focused on addressing this, it keeps us up at night! Artists should be able to live in a city where they can focus on creating instead of on how they can make ends meet, and though we have provided one solution, we know as artists ourselves that we need a stronger push for change."
To become an Akin member, learn more about their various locations on their website and email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a meeting and studio tour with the studio manager.
* Stay tuned as Toronto Arts Foundation releases the 2019 Arts Stats report next month, which asked local artists and arts workers directly about affordability in the city.