There is nothing else quite like it in Toronto. While some people think of it as a new community centre, and it certainly is for the community, it’s not quite like any other facility in Toronto that you would apply that term to; this was the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre until Thursday, and it’s now the Daniels Spectrum, and both names need to be more fully considered to understand the scope of this project, and how transformative for the community it promises to be.
For seven arts and community oriented organizations that have become the centre’s tenants it means a fresh start not just in excellent new purpose-built facilities, but in an environment that will allow them to expand their reach, their programming, and their scope through the symbiosis achieved by their collection in this one place. UrbanToronto has been following the genesis of this venue and its surroundings for several years now; with the addition of the Daniels Spectrum to the Regent Park Revitalization project, what started out as an exercise in remaking a troubled social housing project has become the flowering of a whole neighbourhood.
Regent Park's transformation is bringing not only significantly improved housing for its existing residents, it is now providing the social means required to turn a collection of buildings into a real community. The lead players through all of this have been the City’s Toronto Community Housing Corporation and private partner The Daniels Corporation, both of which have long recognized that community requires more than family units; it requires places for residents to meet, to interact, to play, to learn, to engage. While over the last couple of years brand new retailers and coffee shops have made day-to-day existence easier in the area, this complex, and additions like the soon-to-open Aquatic Centre, will give Regent Park residents a home to learn, to grow, to work, to express themselves and celebrate each other.
Thursday was the culmination of four years of work, and a $38 million investment. Infrastructure funding of $12 million came from the Government of Canada along with another $12 million from the province, while the City through TCHC donated the land. Another $9.7 million has been raised through the generosity of many donors, with the naming donation of $4 million from The Daniels Corporation and The John and Myrna Daniels Charitable Foundation. So now we have the Daniels Spectrum, and as the arts and cultural centre of Regent Park it is the home for seven organizations who will bring many people in through its doors to make the community and the city a better place to live… and these organizations really do represent a full spectrum of engagement. So let's get to know the building before we come back for opening night celebrations.
Like with any building opening, a frenzy of last minute work was in evidence all over the Diamond Schmitt Architects-designed complex in the days leading up to the opening, inside and out.
Below, the last pieces of the puzzle are assembled at the Dundas Street entrance. That entrance brongs one into the Artscape Lounge. Artscape is Toronto's not‐for‐profit organization which makes space for creativity, thereby transforming communities through a portfolio of formerly underutilized and now active buildings across the city. Their locations, including the award‐winning Artscape Wychwood Barns and multi‐tenant arts facilities in the Queen Street West, Liberty Village, Toronto Island, and Distillery District neighbourhoods are now dynamic community assets which enable innovation and creativity. Artscape manage this complex now too, and the lounge at the entrance has been named in their honour through an anonymous $1 million donation. The Artscape Lounge features a cafe run by the Paintbox Bistro, the new restaurant in the base of the connected condo tower just to the west (we'll tell you more about the Paintbox Bistro in an upcoming article). The lounge and cafe combo will provide a warm welcome to the building with casual performance and seating space.
Below, Artscape's President and CEO Tim Jones leads our group through the centre's main performance space, the 400-seat Ada Slaight Hall. The room can be filled with light, or have the windows totally blacked out for performances (the seats roll-out on bleachers seen pushed away at the back of the photo). The 6,000 square foot space can also be walled off into up to three separate 2,000 square foot spaces for smaller events, each supported by the extensive catwalk system above providing up-to-date lighting and sound.
Just outside the Ada Slaight Hall is the MDC Courtyard, a 4,000‐square‐foot outdoor space which can be used for performances, and gatherings from dance and theatre productions to outdoor films and markets. It can also act as an overflow space for larger events being held inside, activities happening on Regent Park Boulevard, or simply as a casual pedestrian gathering space where the community can relax and enjoy the outdoors. MDC Courtyard boasts a raised stage and can be rigged for sound and lighting for a variety of purposes.
The comprehensive use of the colour bars inside and out at the centre makes one wonder just how long the name Daniels Spectrum has been planned; not only do the cladding panels and the finer-grain stripes mark the building inside and out, but in the image below, if you look up, you'll notice the roof trellis atop Daniels' attached Paintbox Condominiums: it will soon glow with coloured LED accent lighting in the evening, completing the branding and tying together the whole complex.
Back inside, now in the south lobby: art covers most walls in this building. At the back of the photo, the doors for COBA, the Collective of Black Artists, behond which you will find three studios the dance company. COBA creates and presents both traditional and contemporary dance reflecting African roots.
COBA's studios feature sprung floors and sound attenuation similar to what was built at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts; box-in-box design stops sound from travelling from one room to another, so COBA rehearsals and performances can be as loud as they need to be! (A photo of COBA in performance at the opening celebrations appears later in this article.)
The ground floor contains another black-box theatre space as well for Native Earth Performing Arts, a theatre, dance, and multi-disciplinary company dedicated to the creation, development and production of professional artistic expression of the contemporary Aboriginal experience in Canada. Native Earth is offering collaborative Resident Company status to three other performance companies as well: Cahoots Theatre Company, fu‐GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company and Kaha:wi Dance.
Arriving on the second floor, we find more hallways filled with work representing the varied experiences of the Regent Park community and its 66 national origins. Responsible for the gallery feel to the building, curator Elle Alconcel is a photo professional and former Artscape intern who couldn't say no when asked by Daniels Spectrum Managing Director Seema Jethalal to mount an inaugural exhibition which reflects Regent Park's diversity. Alconcel has collected quite an ecelectic and impressive range of pieces from artists both from the community and beyond it from similar experience.
ArtHeart Community Art Centre is the centre's visual arts hub. It provides free visual arts education, programs and materials to children, youth, adults and seniors living in Regent Park and the surrounding neighbourhood. ArtHeart's aim is to help participants develop self‐esteem, creativity, life skills and learning. ArtHeart participants also benefit from a relationship with Second Harvest, Toronto's charitable agency which distributes excess fresh food daily to the city's social service agencies.
Just behind ArtHeart's walls is the Regent Park School of Music, which provides subsidized instruction in musical instruments of all types. A steel-pan drumming performance at the opening celebrations featured the school's students. Just across the hall is Pathways to Education, a program which supports youth so that they will successfully complete high school, continue with post‐secondary education, and become actively engaged in their career development. Their largest gathering space is pictured below.
Also located on the second floor are offices and a screening room for the Regent Park Film Festival. The organization brings high quality independent film to Regent Park and beyond. In addition to their annual festival, the organization also hosts year‐round school and community screenings, discussions and workshops at no cost.
Below and behind the scenes, Artscape's offices keep things humming at the centre.
The entirety of the third floor is given over to the acclaimed Centre for Social Innovation. The CSI's space is home for both emerging and established social and arts entrepreneurs who are working to solve challenges in their communities and across the planet. In here you will find private office space, private desk space, hot desks, meeting space and shared amenities for social‐mission focused organizations and individuals.
The Hot Desk space fills the centre of the room, while private office spaces line the perimeter.
The open concept hot desk space still allows for private calls in specially outfitted "phone booths".
The CSI also provides conference rooms for its tennants. Thorugh the window the complex's green roof can be seen.
The CSI provides a lunch room and space to relax for its users, both inside…
Thursday September 20 was the Daniels Spectrum's big day; a morning press conference revealed the new name and the list of major donors, while an evening celebration brought together tenants, donors, and friends to enjoy everything the fantastic new facilities have to offer. While the evening acted as a 'Thank You' to everyone who made the complex possible, it was also a confirmation of how succesful an endeavour it has been.
The evening's high point were performances and speeches in Ada Slaight Hall. Hosted by Anne-Marie Mediwake and Dwight Drummond of CBC News Toronto, heart-felt speeches by local MPP Glen Murray, City Councillor Pam McConnell, Toronto Community Housing's Gene Jones, Daniels' Martin Blake, Artscape's Tim Jones and Robert Foster, and Advisory Committee member Debra Dineen underlined the significance of the new centre for the community and city. They were punctuated by a number of outstanding performances, kicked off by the centre's COBA dance company…
…and continuing with Juno Award-winning singer Divine Brown…
… and featuring 15 year-old Mustafa Ahmed, a student at Jarvis Collegiate and Youth Sub-Committee Co-Chair at the Daniels Spectrum, who recited a stirring original poem of his insights on growing up in the Regent Park.
Thompson Egbo-Egbo, whose family moved from Nigeria to Regent Park when he was four, played a specially composed jazz piano piece with drummer and bass player. The exceptional piece rounded out a great evening before Dragon and Lion dance team Toronto Northern Legs Southern Fists Kung Fu led us back out into the halls. Local catering firm Daniel et Daniel donated time and excellent food for those in attendance.
Now that the Daniels Spectrum is open, it is waiting to welcome anyone interested in its offerings. You can explore it during normal operating hours, 8 AM to 9 PM weekdays, and 10 AM to 6 PM on weekends.