[URBAN NOTE] “Do-it-yourself art spaces are under siege — and we need to do everything we can to protect them”
CBC Arts features an essay by an anonymous author talking about the importance of improvised, do-it-yourself, not-quite legal public art spaces for the art scenes of cities across the world, and the threats that these centres face from (among others) the alt-right.
In the late fall, a friend anxiously explained to me how the online message board 4chan has evolved. When it first started in 2004, it was an open, free-thought avenue — mostly for anime nerds. But over a decade later, it has become a hotbed for ultra right-wing, misogynistic, white supremacist ideas and activity.
My friend has been receiving news from her friends in the U.S. that their grassroots, do-it-yourself art and music spaces have been directly shut down through 4chan. Members of the anonymous internet forum have declared DIY spaces as spawning grounds for radical leftist ideas that are threatening America’s freedom. Using the Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland as a front to support their case, 4chan users have been calling local fire departments and reporting DIY venues as safety hazards to the public. Upon inspection, many of these small art hubs have fallen short of meeting city safety codes and have been forced to cease all activity.
Hearing about the closure of DIY spaces in America has been heartbreaking. However, from my forward-looking home of Toronto, it all seemed like a distant sci-fi story. But on January 10, this vigilante wave hit Toronto: one of the city’s rare DIY spaces was shut down. A 4chan member called the fire department, citing the art hub as unsafe; the fire department came for inspection and prohibited the organizers from continuing operations.
Like most DIY art and music spaces, this one (which I will keep unnamed) was a community-driven initiative that was centred on providing a platform for underrepresented cultures. Instead of being propelled by making money, DIY venues are motivated by artistic appreciation and experimentation. They are places where people of colour, folks from the LGBTQ community, people with disability, women, youth and other marginalized demographics can express themselves or congregate feeling safe from discrimination. They are spaces where those failed by mainstream culture can present or see art that they relate to. For 10 years, this hidden community gathering space has been one of these beloved places, servicing a distinct cross-section of Toronto — myself included.