By now, many millennials have heard it all when it comes to home ownership, arms extending and muscles burning as the possibility remains beyond grasp. But what about an arts organization that’s of a similar age? How can it move beyond four decades of renting and on to a new phase?
“I always say our landlord is our highest-paid employee. And there's no competing with that: The rent,” says Tori Fleming, executive director of Centre For Art Tapes. “The amount our rent is goes up more than our public funding does every year. So the gap between our operating funds and our rents gets a little bit bigger every single year.”
The arts organization—currently located at 2238 Maitland Street in Halifax’s north end—has been a hub in the local visual arts scene since the 1970s, when the first crop of media artists in town came together, “pooling resources to buy a video camera,” as Fleming puts it. In the years since, CFAT has grown into the province’s only dedicated media arts space and a regional leader in virtual reality art. “We provide resources—both physical, like gear, and conceptual, like space to create ideas,” she told The Coast back in 2019, in an article celebrating the centre’s 40th anniversary.
Now, at 43, CFAT is more than ready to find its forever home, a patch of soil for the roots it’s spent decades growing. Currently, CFAT has its sights set on nearby 2199 Gottingen Street, a bathhouse next to The Bus Stop Theatre and Alteregos Cafe. While Fleming notes it’s not promised to the organization and could theoretically be snapped up by another buyer, her projections see CFAT not only saving money on rent but “that building that we would save money on is also close to triple our square footage.”
Perfect, since plans for the new CFAT also include an onsite media art gallery, which would be open to the public full-time.
“I’ve been at CFAT for coming up on seven years and we’ve never had a gallery… In that time, every single year we have done our various exhibitions at other places. We've always partnered either with other art centres or other galleries or other pop-up buildings,” Fleming explains, mentioning a 2019 showcase at the old Video Difference building as an example. “That sort of pop-up culture, I think, is really, really dying. It's so much harder to find space to just use once.” It creates a trickle-down, she adds: With developers seemingly less willing to allow pop-ups, gallery-free arts organizations have to ask galleries—who also have less options, since many of them relied on pop-ups for programming or are inhabiting smaller spaces to cut costs. “In general, finding places to exhibit work has been way harder,” she says.
"I see how much work is just getting not shown anywhere. There's so much incredible work being made in Nova Scotia right now"
“Last week when I was in my office, every single suite was full of people making this work. And
because I am sort of existing in people's studios all the time”—Fleming’s office is surrounded by studio space at CFAT’s home on Maitland—"I see how much work is just getting not shown anywhere. There's so much incredible work being made in Nova Scotia right now.
“A lot of the opportunities to show contemporary or media artwork is very, very established artists,” she continues. “When you're kind of like more coming up, there's very few opportunities and then as a result as a citizen, there's very few opportunities to see it. So I would love to just take this work that already exists in all the buildings you're walking past every day on people's laptops, and have a gallery that is open five days a week that you can just go and see it.”