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Khyber Space Squeeze Alarms Halifax Artists

Halifax artists and arts organizations are raising concerns about the space available for culture in the municipality following city demands that the Khyber Centre for the Arts vacate its current venue at 1588 Barrington Street, where it as been since the 1990s.

Khyber Centre for the Arts director Dan Joyce admits asbestos and lead remediation—the reason the Khyber and other tenants have been told to move out of the city-owned building by March 31—is necessary. But he is worried about the long-term consequences.

“It’s going to be so expensive to move out of here,” Joyce says. “And there is no way we will have nearly as much space [at another location during the period of remediation].”

What’s more, Joyce says, he has had no clear assurance about how the Khyber will be re-integrated into a renovated 1588 Barrington.

“I’m fairly confident that the building is going to be renovated as an arts centre, and I’m confident the Khyber will be invited back in,” Joyce says, “But I think it’s essential that the art society be involved in the development…. There’s no reason why Halifax can’t have an exciting contemporary art centre downtown.”

On Tuesday, March 11, a roundtable at the Bloomfield Centre—another government-owned space under redevelopment—is expected to address many of these issues. Titled “Art Evicted: Property, Policy, Politics and Potential in Halifax” it will feature Katie Belcher of Eyelevel Gallery, Melanie Colosimo of Platform Halifax (which is trying to develop a new art space in the city), Emily Davidson of Roberts Street Social Centre and Eleanor King of the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

The panel reflects the fact that space is an increasing issue for other art organizations in the city, too.

In December, the Coast reported that the artist-run centre Eyelevel Gallery, founded in 1974, gave up its gallery space on Gottingen Street due to rent increases of 30 per cent. Its files and director are now sharing an office with the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative, and its upcoming program Reshelving Initiative is planned to go “on tour” to other artist-run centres in the region rather than be hosted in a dedicated space.

In early February, the Roberts Street Social Centre, an artist-run initiative, also had to move due to space and rent concerns. The new venue at 2180 Gottingen does not have space for the centre’s screenprinting activities, so those programs are on hold for now.

Space anxieties among culture workers are further fuelled by the fact that historic downtown properties such as the Roy Building being remade into luxury condominiums. Starfish Properties, the developer of one such property, is also currently developing the building next to 1588 Barrington Street where the Khyber has made its home for many years.

For its part, city representatives say they want to work with the Khyber.

“[The Khyber] provides an important community service and we’re looking forward to continue supporting their contribution to the arts and culture sector,” Richard MacLellan of the Halifax Regional Municipality writes in an email. “HRM remains committed to providing a space downtown for arts and culture incubation.”

Waye Mason, a city councillor and former Khyber building regular who has “lived the rocky relationship between the Khyber and the municipality” over the years reminded constituents in a recent blog post that “Whatever the current circumstances, it is important to remember that Regional Council voted in 2007, 2008, and unanimously in 2010 to have an arts and culture cluster at 1588 Barrington Street, with the Khyber Arts Society as a key tenant. That Council direction is the city’s position unless Council determines otherwise.”

Dan Joyce says the Khyber will likely know its interim location as of March 14. But after it moves out of the physical space, it still plans to host its annual member’s exhibition in a virtual version of 1588 Barrington Street.

“We’re going to keep our foot in the door of the building as much as possible, because we don’t want to lose it,” Joyce says.

This article was corrected on March 6, 2014. The original copy stated “annual members version” instead of “annual member’s exhibition.”

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