By Eddie Jude
It’s happening: Toronto is undergoing a process of rapid gentrification. From Geary Avenue to Parkdale, to the Downtown East, we are seeing the rise of developments and the displacement of people from their neighbourhoods. But what do we as artists have to do with it?
It’s often been suggested that artists moving in is the first sign of a neighbourhood’s supposed “revitalization” process, but let’s specify what that might mean.
Art is happening in almost all communities all the time. But what makes the difference is how certain art is labelled “legitimate” or “authentic.” Gentrification breeds off what is determined to be palatable. The artists we are talking about here are not necessarily successful or wealthy; rather, their capital exists in their social positionalities.
Artists serve as the perfect gentrifier for developers because of their ability to be marketed as ‘safe’ and ‘hip.’ But we can also very much choose to gentrify on our own accord by refusing to integrate with existing communities or occupying space without acknowledging our impact.
So does this mean that, as artists, we cannot create work, organize events, or open start-ups? Not necessarily. But how do we do so responsibly and with accountability? How do we begin to think more about the ways in which we engage with both our “target” communities and what already exist around us?
Rosina Kazi is the lead singer of LAL and one part of Unit 2, an artist-run space geared toward Q/BIPOC* folks and allies. “As an artist and organizer, I feel like because my community is so diverse, I need to listen and support making space for folks who need space,” says Kazi.
Carving out space that aims to be truly inclusive is a powerful act of struggle and resistance. So when we choose to take up space irresponsibly, whose struggle and existence are we silencing, erasing or forgetting? Artists, makers, curators, and event organizers have a responsibility to honour the stories held by a space, both past and present.
It’s tough. Gentrification is not merely a theory to be discussed; it is a physical and mental process in which we all participate. It is a mechanism not just of capitalism, but also white supremacy and ongoing colonization.
So there is no easy answer. But thinking critically about the ways in which we engage with space and community is a necessary first step to re-evaluating our practice and creative values. Best that we as artists, organizers, and neighbours take that step together.
*Queer, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour
Eddie Jude is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto.