It is with a heavy heart that we announce that ildsjel collective will be closing at the end of this year. As of December 20th we will be closed to the public, and by next spring we will be permanently closed as a venue and a workspace. There are a number of events and workshops still to come next year, so please join us as we celebrate the last few months at ildsjel, and all the great memories we have made here!
Below you’ll find a letter written by one of our co-founders, and the creative spirit behind the ildsjel concept, Dimitri Kanaris:
This December marks 3 years since we got the keys to 4 Carlaw Avenue. However, before we even decided to open up a space for the arts & culture community, we were busy running events around the city featuring people who worked in music, film, art, and design, as well as anyone who wanted to celebrate creative talent in Toronto. Our events would feature a bunch of artists performing live music, as many vendor tables as we could fit in a room, and collaborative art projects for the audience!
Seeing this vibrant community come together in a shared space, building an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration, was one of the greatest inspirations of my life so far. The more we hosted these events, the more we realized that this community needed a permanent space, where the sense of creative freedom could continue every single day. So we started the search for a suitable space where we could continue to build ildsjel collective. We were a bunch of friends with different backgrounds and different skill sets, but with a shared vision of creating a space that catered to the unique creative spirit of anyone who wanted to be part of our community.
Now, what would this space actually look like? We toured spaces all over the city looking for the right combination of qualities that would allow us to execute our vision. We had to find a space which could host everything a creative community might need:
- An event space for all kinds of productions and shows
- A recording studio that could house music production, rehearsals, podcasts, and vlogs
- A makerspace, complete with 3D printers, a laser cutter, a CNC machine, and tool benches where people could take their designs from a napkin sketch to a physical product
- A flexible, open workspace where people could do anything from working on a laptop to painting, sewing, and crafting
- A cafe and lounge, where people could meet, connect and ideate, resulting in the collaborative projects we always envisioned taking place at ildsjel
Obviously this was a big undertaking, and finding a space that could accommodate all of these demands while remaining affordable and accessible turned out to be an impossible triangle of demands. However, we eventually settled on an industrial space in the Toronto Port Lands.
When we found our space, the first thing we did was have a sledgehammer party: we invited all of our friends to help knock down some walls and celebrate this new beginning. Every bit of construction we could do ourselves to save money, we did. We made countless trips to Home Depot, learned how to build walls from drywall and insulation, and discovered that not everyone’s painting ability is equal (if you ask me today, I can still tell you which walls were painted by who). We kept working on our budget friendly construction project until one day in May 2017, we got a call from BlogTO wanting to tour the space so they could tell Torontonians that the city just got a brand new “amazing creative space”. We weren’t quite finished but we figured the opportunity was too good to pass up, so we pulled all nighters for a week straight to get ildsjel ready for launch.
In reality, we never stopped building ildsjel. We never sat back and said: “it’s done”. There were always improvements that could be made, and new projects to accommodate. We never said no to anyone with a vision for a project they wanted to accomplish in our space. While that proved to be a flawed business model with astronomical costs, it led to some of the most wonderful experiences that we all worked so hard to make way for.
One of our first events at ildsjel was a celebration of independent filmmaking and storytelling, hosted with our friends in Blackout Media. It was effectively a fully programmed one-night festival, utilizing every venue in our space. Our studio live room was turned into a theatre, screening over a dozen independent and locally produced films. In our lounge, you would find the corresponding scripts posted on the walls, and props from the films on display. In the event space, we displayed costumes and had a stack of tube TVs playing clips from each film. Our meeting room became a VR theatre. We suspended multicoloured LED lights from the ceiling, and pumped the event space full of fog – on stage we had an incredible film composer who was performing live improvised compositions to match the mood of the room. This event, like many events following it, was an absolutely incredible experience that we never could’ve pulled off in any other space. Ours became the space where people with limited resources but an abundance of talent could make anything happen… and that was only the beginning.
We hosted maker markets paired with live music and crafts, concerts promoting local artists, and partnered with record labels to launch albums featuring merch made on the spot. We participated in DesignTO and turned the space into an art gallery. We hosted product launches, workshop classes, speaker series, conventions, and film shoots. We set up film screenings and film festivals, and sometimes, when everyone went home, our own small team rearranged the furniture to watch some classics like Die Hard, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, and Twin Peaks on our projector screen. We had game nights where we played Settlers of Catan, organized Super Smash Bros. tournaments, and even discovered D&D. Our space was a haven for geeking out about anything in any industry.
Unfortunately, these amazing projects we saw come to fruition in our space didn’t help us cover our expenses, and although we never designed ildsjel with profit as our number one goal, the reality is that we still have to pay our rent every month. There are changes we could make to our business model, that might make our space more profitable, but these changes don’t fit with our values or what we set out to accomplish with ildsjel collective. Our founding community saw a lack of creative space in Toronto, and set out to build a space that would break down barriers for anyone with a creative vision. So we built the space, and the community grew. However, now that we’ve reached the end of the road for our space, we have to come to terms with the fact that the biggest barrier to creative freedom was ultimately the barrier that we eventually faced as well.
There’s a part of me that wishes we would’ve had the foresight to set up this initiative as a not-for-profit or a social enterprise, so we could have accessed funding and grants, however I simultaneously wanted our vision to be independent from what government grants dictate. Furthermore, ildsjel was built on the dream that it could be a profitable, sustainable business – so we could provide a space where artists had the freedom to explore their craft without boundaries, limitations, or strings attached. I still believe in that vision – the ability to create art on one’s own terms. However, ildsjel was simply not the initiative that would allow us to sustainably provide that environment. Just to make it from month to month, we ended up renting out the space to weddings, private events, and even EDM shows that ultimately paid us much more than any ildsjel event could. Any month or two we could go without needing to host a private event was a victory. However, we have to recognize that this is an unsustainable practice that would never work in the long run.
As many have told us though, when one door closes another door opens. I believe that what we have built goes far beyond a physical space. We have always said that the most important aspect of our space is the community we have built around it and the ideas that we injected into it. Now more than ever, it is important to stay connected with the people who have contributed to this community. As we wrap up this chapter of ildsjel collective, we’re actively thinking about the best way to maintain this community and those connections.
For now, I cannot express my gratitude enough to everyone who contributed to our space, our community, and our vision of what a collaborative arts space looks like. By no means did we go into this with a foolproof plan for how to create what we did, but we managed to do it together – ildsjel collective really is a product of anyone and everyone who made an effort to be involved in our community. From this and many other experiences, we have learned so much that has made us realize the undeniable impact this space and community has had on us. This is a big change for us, but not the end. We will move forward as we always have, with a little help from our friends.