Xpace, 2021 Finalist

Xpace Cultural Centre is a not-for-profit artist-run centre dedicated to providing emerging and student artists, designers, curators and writers with opportunities to showcase their work in a professional setting. They approach their programming as a form of world-building: providing exhibitions, events, panels and workshops that respond to the direct needs and interests of their communities and membership. Expanding notions of theory and aesthetics, they seek to hold space for thought-provoking and experimental collaborations.

Alexia, Natalie and Philip gave us some insight to what Xpace is all about. Learn more about Xpace below.

Xpace is the first exhibition space of its kind in Toronto. What were the key motivations to creating a space meant to specifically support emerging and student artists?

Alexia: Xpace was founded in 2004 by the OCAD Student Union for students to have a gallery to showcase their work outside of the university. Since its inception, Xpace has fostered a unique platform that not only encourages creative experimentation and innovative curatorial practices, but also seeks to elevate new-generation voices (regardless of formal education) by providing them with tangible tools and resources through free, public programming: that too often is easily limited to post-secondary education and commercial spaces. The intention of these programs has never been to hoard knowledge or create relationships of dependency, but rather to truly advocate for the rights and agency of emerging art practitioners over their own practices: democratizing space and allowing for new stories to arise. It is also one of a small handful of galleries in the city in which emerging artists and curators present solo and group exhibitions for the first time, write their first exhibition essays, participate in their first performance or panel discussion and host their first workshops - all within a professional, supportive environment with appropriate compensation.

We can’t imagine how difficult the past year has been on Xpace, as a physical space. How did you work around the challenges of connecting with artists in a pandemic? How has your practice changed or adapted this past year to continue to advocate for Emerging Artists?

Natalie: Xpace has always worked within the mandate of advocating for emerging artists and designers first and foremost. In a lot of ways we had to investigate many alternatives to these new challenges that were brought on by COVID-19, consistently, and many of these changes would change monthly if not daily. Many of the obstacles in the beginning of the pandemic came from the inability to gather in person. This meant all of our meetings, workshops, and exhibitions had to be hosted online. In the beginning it was a steep learning curve for us, as so much of what Xpace does is centred around gathering as a community. As a three-person team we also relied heavily on each other for support as we were tackling a completely new realm of programming and also dealing with the emotional hardships that this pandemic has brought on. We had to completely reassess how we produce exhibitions, hosting workshops on Zoom as well as having our Main Space exhibitions be hosted on their own website domains. We revamped the website, so it could function as a more intuitive wayfinding source to house all of our exhibitions and programming.We’re also working closer than ever with artists and curators to achieve their goals and understand how important it is to be flexible during this process, as many artists have been struggling and we are here to offer the most support we can within our capacities as arts programmers.

As we slowly look at returning to ‘normal’ (one can only hope!), what exhibitions/artists will you be featuring in the next few months?

Alexia: We are launching our annual open call soon, which is the life force behind all of our exhibition programming - Working on this timeline makes this as much as a surprise to us as it does to you, so we’re really excited to see what emerging artists and curators are creating, navigating and experimenting with.

Natalie: We will also be hosting our Residency for Recent OCADU graduates which provides artists with a studio space within Xpace and mentorship to develop, plan and execute and exhibition at the end of their time with us. Philip: In the warmer months, be on the lookout for a number of exhibitions across our various spaces. In May we’re handing over our Window to Alternative Tentacle, who will be featuring work from high school students across Toronto’s 9 alternative schools. Then in July, we’ll have two great exhibitions by Toronto-based artists Sydney Madia and Kaya Joan! We can’t wait to share these upcoming projects with you all.

Given that you support emerging and young artists, what do you think the future of arts and culture looks like for Toronto?

Alexia: Reallocation and redistribution of funds from larger to smaller institutions/collectives, deeper and more intentional collaborations, resource-sharing and more accessible spaces for studios, gathering and meeting places and interactive programming.

Philip: As we’ve mentioned before, the pandemic has irrevocably shifted the ways in which artists both consume and produce art. We’re very fortunate to have a space that exists within such creative, talented communities. We’ve first hand witnessed the ways in which artists have been making innovative use of online platforms. As we're gradually settling into these shifted ways of working, it’s been great to see artists, curators, and other creatives push the boundaries of how their work can exist in alternative ways. We’re seeing the conversation shift from what can’t be done to what can be done.

How does it feel to be nominated for the Arts for Youth Award?

Alexia: It feels really affirming. Because Xpace exists in a limbo between artist-run centre, DIY experimental space and art gallery - filling each of these categories but not fitting neatly into anyof them - our work often goes unrecognized, unappreciated or not ‘grandiose’ enough to merit larger recognition. I hope this also shines a light on the smaller, underfunded and underrepresented artist-run spaces in our communities, and the immense love and care that fuels everything they do, and everything the arts is moving towards in these difficult times