OTTAWA — Nearly 100 artists with studios and workshops in a former 19th-century bread factory are facing eviction as a $750-million high-rise development looms on the horizon. Since the building complex, known as Enriched Bread Artists (EBA), was sold to CLV Development Group, members of the Ottawa art community have established a new studio building at an alternative location. But so far, all the EBA artists have chosen to remain, keeping their fingers crossed as CLV Group’s plans forge ahead.
Since the 1990s, members of Enriched Bread Artists (EBA) have opened their work spaces and galleries to the community in the form of open studio events, exhibitions, workshops, and educational programs. Studios at the historic factory building also provide a lifeline for graduates from local university art programs by enabling them to establish their practice in Ottawa rather than moving to Toronto, Montreal, or out of Canada entirely.
In other large cities, the displacement of artists to make way for upscale housing is sadly often the norm. But it could be argued that the phenomenon has an outsized impact in the Canadian capitol because, unlike other cities that possess a legacy of commercially obsolete buildings that can be converted into artists’ studios, Ottawa has few such suitable buildings.
“Ottawa never had a big industrial manufacturing sector. It’s been the capital since the 19th century,” Dan Sharp, director of EBA, the oldest and largest cooperative in the complex, told Hyperallergic. This, combined with an acute housing shortage, makes “lack of affordable space one of the most pressing challenges for Ottawa artists,” added Nicole Milne, executive director of the Ottawa Arts Council.
The housing shortage was described as a crisis in a 2022 provincial task force report, which noted that housing prices have tripled in the last decade alone. The report went on to point out that the problem is most acute among affordable units. The government housing agency CMHC reports that current construction will not adequately address the housing crisis, putting pressure on cities like Ottawa to prioritize new development to meet growing demand.
Historically, lack of sufficient studio space in Ottawa has forced artists to establish their studios in basements and attics, hindering the formation of an art community. But as the capital city’s art community grows, the demand for shared studios increases. Since EBA converted two floors of the factory into spaces for artmaking, the same complex has expanded to house other art organizations, including a gallery, a ceramic cooperative, and a glass-blowing collective in the ancillary buildings. All these groups now face eviction.
EBA’s property, at 951 Gladstone Avenue, is strategically located between the Downtown and Little Italy neighborhoods and is adjacent to a newly constructed mass transit rail station, making it a highly desirable location for new housing. CLV Group’s proposal envisions 745 new housing units in three towers while preserving the original bread factory as a cultural hub. Additionally, the group has reportedly expressed interest in making renovated art studios available to community artists at a reduced rate after the $750-million redevelopment is complete.
But CLV has yet to provide any details, and many questions remain unanswered. It is estimated that the new construction will take three years, and it’s unclear where interim studios could be found during that period. CLV Development Group has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
“We have no idea what the spaces or prices are going to be,” EBA artist and board member Karina Kraenzle told Hyperallergic. “Once people go through the trouble of relocating, it may not be feasible for them to come back.”
Meanwhile, the housing shortage in Ottawa continues to push real estate prices up, so what that rate will be is anyone’s guess.
Across town, other Ottawa artists discovered an unused building further away from the downtown core whose owner was receptive to working with them. They formed Studio Space Ottawa (SSO), a nonprofit, and fundraised to build out studios. Since then, SSO has expanded to house over 40 artists on two floors of the former children’s amusement center.
On a recent evening at the unveiling of a public art piece by the Inuit artist Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona, SSO board members Anna Frlan and Christos Pantieras showed Hyperallergic around the space. They spoke about their waiting list of over 60 artists and their plans to build out additional studios. The Ottawa city government has indicated that they recognize the importance of the issue: As part of their recently updated development strategies, they’ve elevated cultural investment to a standalone priority (formerly, it was a subset of Parks and Recreation).
But meanwhile, at the Bread Factory, resident artists remain despite their uncertain future, largely because there’s nowhere else to go.
“I will miss being in a space where there are other artists,” said artist Karina Kraenzle. “It’s so valuable to have an exchange, and to know that other people are making things around you.”