Reflections and Dreams

This past week or so has been one of reflection….frequently positive and sometimes not so positive.

A week ago Saturday I attended the Secret Path concert commemorating both Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie, and witnessed how reconciliation can truly be reconciliACTION….in a very moving and positive tribute to both Chanie and Gord.

The next day I attended a funeral of a young Indigenous man, saw how devastating it was to his family and friends….yet also saw the healing that can occur when a community rallies around those in need….and for its own needs….a community that is more than just Indigenous or non-Indigenous….beyond class or racial barriers.

Yesterday I was part of the Davenportage, providing an Indigenous opening. Starting from Étienne Brûlé Park, teams carried canoes along the Davenport Trail. The trail runs north along the Humber River then turns east at Lambton Park on what used to be a sand bank. Further east the trail meets the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroquois and follows it east across Garrison and Taddle Creeks. The trail then follows Yellow Creek back to the Evergreen Brickworks, a short 16.5 km portage! The Davenportage is a walk through an incredible amount of Toronto history and geography. Michael Bumby, one of the organizers, concedes the route deviates somewhat from the original First Nations trail, due to modern development. But it still provides important lessons….especially connecting to the land. “Until you do it with your feet, you haven’t learned a lot about the land,” says Bumby. “That distance has not changed in 10,000 years. You can’t sense it in a car.”

In many ways these past few days have also been a time of reassessment….refocus….re-evaluation.

A group I am involved with have been working at trying to build a recording studio….plus other music industry related space (such as offices for artist development/management/promotion; production suites; song writing & rehearsal spaces)….plus possibly non-profit arts organizations. We have looked at lots of different spaces, including the Daniels building at Queens Quay and even the old Matador Ballroom.

The Matador Ballroom was of definite interest because of its iconic music history, all the great folks who played there….but also for its space with 18 ft ceilings and no columns and nearly 4000 sq. ft in the old ballroom. Unfortunately it was bought by three investors for $4.4 million last May who intend to build a condo development there. Literally tear the old Matador down and build condos with a possible commercial space that might pay homage to its musical legacy.

We did contact the current owners last July/August (I actually happened by there one weekend and saw nothing had been done with the space….finally tracked down the owners and actually sent an email “To Whom It May Concern” indicating possible interest in purchasing the building). To our surprise we actually got a response and began such a discussion….even getting an opportunity to extensively view the property. BUT there was never any indication of an acceptable price provided by the new owners….and while they indicated they would entertain an offer, we just couldn’t come up with a figure that would make sense. Not having to guess a figure to offer….and also build in the cost of equipping and outfitting such a space, not to mention the extensive renovation to bring the mechanical aspects up to spec.

We looked at several creative means to finance such a purchase: trying to finance part through private lenders or by mortgaging; having several potential investors partner on such a venture; using community bonds through Tapestry Community Capital (who had helped with an earlier attempt at saving the Matador); and any combination of these.

We looked at the possibility of a workers cooperative or even a non-profit studio. Our intention was to create a community hub for music and other arts.

We had a meeting this past Wednesday re: the Matador at which we gave a final ‘sales pitch’ as it were….but unfortunately the current owners have made plans to completely demolish the building and rebuild on the site with condos….possibly building in something acknowledging the Matador’s history….but 3 to 4 years from now….and while they would likely sell the whole building as is, their asking price would be far higher than it is worth. While the Matador is an incredible space, it is a huge undertaking….and realistically not worth the cost it would entail….with any purchase price well over $5.5 million….and it would still likely cost twice that to fully renovate and outfit properly.

It was nice to dream of saving such a space but the reality is that there is little or no need for a huge recording studio these days….not in these lean and mean days….and while we could have created smaller studios at the Matador with other spaces for performance arts etc…..it was just going to be too costly….and too time consuming….taking money and time when we could be doing what we really want to do.

AND sometimes one tries just too hard to do too much.

Besides, Joe Dunphy from Revolution Recording Studios told us that it was going to be a roller coaster of a ride just finding the right space….with highs….and lows….but that we would eventually find the right space….so make sure we enjoy the ride wherever it takes us.

SO, as for myself, I have re-evaluated my goals….decided to concentrate on what are priorities in my mind….focus….not try to do too much….or so much.

SO here are my priorities:

FIRST, to follow through with Make Music Matter and firm up plans on a possible partnership for a pilot project in an Indigenous community….healing through music…..maybe calling such a partnership IMPEL (Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives).

SECOND, find a suitable commercial studio space….not too big….big enough for one medium sized studio….and one smaller studio….plus a couple of production suites and couple of offices….looking at about 3000 sq.ft. in total….maybe bit more….but far from the 8000 sq.ft. that Matador had in total.

THIRD, to help some good friends get their latest recording completed.

FOURTH, to create an Indigenous record label/production/promotion business….to produce and promote Indigenous artists especially emerging artists….not to ‘compete’ with anyone else doing so….but provide a more cooperative and all inclusive approach than other approaches….never to ‘rip off’ artists….but to create a win/win for all involved.

I am working with some great friends….some very talented people….and am equally fortunate to be supported by other talented and good friends.

SO the dream lives on….just in a smaller version….with more focus….maybe with less folks directly involved….but still paddling forward on this journey. With the open end up and the pointed end forward. STUDIO JIIMAAN is still moving forward.

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