For nearly two-and-a-half years, a once-dormant building in the East Village stirred to life.
Known as the Seafood Market — an homage to one of its previous incarnations — the somewhat derelict building sat unused on a plot of land destined for condo developers. Through a partnership between Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA) and the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the empty space was transformed into affordable studios for artists of all disciplines.
The Seafood Market experiment had an expiry date on it from the start, though, and it will now close its doors at the end of July, forcing the almost 50 artists who worked there to find other spaces in the city.
“I think that the Seafood Market was successful,” says Eric Moschopedis, who, along with Mia Rushton, was in charge of running the building for the artists. He cites the generous space, better-than-average amenities, and its ability to foster community as some of its pluses. “The partnership with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation was really, really valuable. I think they bent over backwards to keep us in that building.”
Susan Veres, CMLC vice president of marketing and communications, is also positive about the Seafood Market experiment, explaining that having a hive of artist activity not only enhanced the community while it was there, but was a long-term learning experience for developing the East Village. “I’m happy that we’ve been able to use the space for artists, I’m thrilled that it informs the thinking for CADA/cSPACE [the organization hived off CADA to invest in arts spaces], this idea about using other spaces around the city for temporary art studios,” she says. “If we at CMLC had other buildings we could activate, would we do it again? Absolutely.”
It was never a secret that the Seafood Market would eventually shut down, so residents are taking the end of the project in stride. Nate McLeod and Cassandra Paul, two members of an artist collective called The Bakery that worked out of the Seafood Market, are used to adapting to new spaces and aren’t fazed. “We knew it was coming, so it was just an opportunity to do something else. For us it was really exciting to be like, ‘OK, well, let’s go! Let’s go find something else,’” says Paul.
While the shortage of affordable, stable studio space is an ongoing issue for Calgary artists, Moschopedis says that temporary spaces aren’t necessarily an inadequate solution. He estimates that about three quarters of artists are looking for long-term, stable space, but adds, “A lot of artists are satisfied working in temporary spaces, we have no problem with it. Being in one space for six months and having to move to another space for six months isn’t that bad, really.”
Paul also points out that there are spaces to be had if artists are willing, or able, to look farther afield: “There’s tons of spaces in Ogden, there’s warehouses everywhere and they’re empty. We have a couple friends who have studios out there and they have eight-foot beautiful walls to work on and loading docks. But you need to be able to drive there, and it takes a bit longer, it isn’t as accessible for studio visits. There’s space if you want to find it and be flexible and open to where you’re going.”
But in these coming post-Seafood Market days, some artists are wondering what might happen next in terms of finding space. “Nobody is mad or disappointed that the Seafood Market is closing, we all anticipated that would happen someday and so there’s no grievance around that,” says Moschopedis. “I think they [the artists] are disappointed that there isn’t another space available.”
Still, he says, “artists will always find space. Almost everyone from Seafood Market has found other arrangements for themselves — that’s the resilience of the artist community.”