Waterloo Region has long been known as a manufacturing hub as far back as the 1800s. That manufacturing tradition continues to today, though its definition has transformed to include tech and creative industries.
While our tech and innovation sectors are internationally renowned. The creative sector’s contributions are plenty as evidenced by local theatre, music, maker expos, and art museums and exhibits offered throughout the Region. This ‘maker’ mentality is even highlighted in Kitchener’s four-year economic development plan, branded as “Make It Kitchener.”
Globe Studios is one example of a local space full of makers, a gem slightly hidden in the Schneider Creek neighbourhood in Kitchener. The studio will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an incorporated organization this upcoming fall, 18 years of it at this location.
“The studio started as an informal collective in 1988. It was several artists who were sharing space in the Globe furniture building in Waterloo. So that’s where we have our name, from the furniture factory,” Isabella Stefanescu, a founding member of Globe Studios said.
These studios feel like a comfortable and permanent home for the artists, including photographer Mark Essner. “It’s nice to know that we’re not going anywhere,” he said.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
“In 1993 we found ourselves without any space whatsoever. At that time there were, I’d say, about 25 artists working out of there. We were driven to work out of garages, basements, and some people couldn’t work at all,” Stefanescu said.
They eventually found space at 72 Victoria Street South.
“We rented a whole floor and subdivided it into individual studios. We were there for basically about five years. Then we were given two months notice to clear out because the building had been sold. It totally disrupted everybody’s working, for sure. I had to postpone an exhibition because I didn’t have a place to work,” Stefanescu recalled.
The artists needed a new location but rental prices were prohibitively expensive and the many moves were disrupting their work.
“We decided that we were not going to do this unless we had some kind of say in it. So, we wanted to own,” Stefanescu said.
Through partnerships with the City of Kitchener, building owners, and other stakeholders, that hope eventually became a reality.
“Our mandate at Globe is to provide affordable, suitable, safe space. We have kept the rents low, through some very lean times. We’re essentially self sufficient because what finances all of this is the rent from the studios,” Stefanescu said.
“Right now, we have almost no turnover and we have a very long waiting list. Some people have been on that waiting list for four years. There’s a severe shortage of affordable space for artists in the Region.”
Stefanescu also noted that the liveliness of the makers’ scene in KW is being stifled due to a lack of space.
Essner echoed the need for more space, specifically for artists.
“We have a really diverse, vibrant group of creative people [at Globe] and there are tonnes more in the community that don’t have a space who are either working from home or renting in a non-art type of environment where typically there is a much higher overhead and the biggest thing about being there is just being part of a group,” Essner said.
He stressed that being around people that do different types of art can produce collaboration.
“It’s been a great experience,” Essner said. “I can’t really compare it to anything else locally. It is definitely unique in this area. We could have three times the space and still be full of artists. We aren’t struggling to find artists to fill our studios, that’s for sure.”
Clearly there’s a need for dedicated space for the creative sector in our community. Stefanescu wonders if part of the solution may lie with partners in the creative and innovation sectors. She brought forth the the idea of tech clusters creating spaces for artists and matching the rent price that The Globe charges.
“There’s this thirst for this to happen but I think the tech sector is at a bit of a loss about how to go about it,” stated Stefanescu. “I think residencies would be a really interesting way. I mean, try it out. Give somebody space for a year and experiment, research.”
She challenges the tech industry to apply its innovative and creative thinking to the arts community.
“Can I say that to tech – think outside the box! Come out and see what we’re doing!” she said.
Essner sees opportunities for growth and partnership as well.
“The ideal situation would be a Globe [Studios] set up in each of the tri-cities, one in Waterloo and one in Cambridge. That’s a model we could easily do at a different address. It’s just a matter of the timing being right and the right piece of property being available,” he offered.
The expansion of the Globe model to other areas in the Region could also be supported by developers.
“There’s a lot of opportunity,” Stefanescu noted. “As the city’s being developed, as density increases, in order to mitigate the density, developers have to contribute to the community. There’s no reason that their contribution couldn’t take the form of dedicated space for studios, theatres, rehearsal space.”
Essner suggested that some of the old buildings that are constantly being redeveloped could be used as maker space.
“It would be nice if someone would say in this part of this building, we’re going to put 10 studios there. Obviously, the artists would have to pay for it but not at the market rent, at an artist’s rent,” he said.
Though there may be a lack of space for artists, there is not a lack of ideas about how to change that. Stefanescu noted that it takes political will. It doesn’t just happen.
“In order to have an arts scene you need to take care of the whole ecosystem. I don’t think sometimes there’s enough understanding on both the part of civil servants and politicians how important it is to foster all levels of artistic presentation and creation,” she said.
Stefanescu recalled the important role that local government played with Globe Studios.
“As a not-for-profit we had a tremendously hard time getting a loan from a bank. Without the City of Kitchener, we could not have done this.”
Clearly, these partnerships don’t just happen. They require thoughtful and innovative collaborations from the arts sector, the city, and those with financial resources.
“The beauty behind Globe is the community seeing that there is this cohesive group of creative people and it’s not just what we’re doing in the building,” Essner said.
“We’re out in the community as well. [We encourage the community to] recognize what we do and see the potential to do it elsewhere.”