Can visual art save empty storefronts downtown? Montreal is betting on it
Can art act as a magnet for business? Some major Montreal landlords are lending their properties to an experiment aimed at finding out.
Thirty vacant retail spaces are being made available to selected visual artists for three months as part of a new initiative designed to revitalize the city’s downtown core and showcase contemporary works of art — as well as the storefronts that house them.
Called Créer des ponts (or Building Bridges), the event begins Thursday and is due to run until Oct. 15. The pop-up workshops, most of which are at street level, will be open to the public free of charge. Ten glass cubes, deployed throughout the city, will also display artworks.
“This is about establishing a dialogue between two solitudes: commercial real estate, which has been hit hard by the rise of e-commerce, and emerging artists who are under-financed and don’t yet have a network that allows them to live off their art,” organizer Frédéric Loury, who runs the Art Souterrain festival, told the Montreal Gazette. “The pandemic seemed like the perfect time to do this.”
Vacant storefronts have been an issue in Montreal for years, and the problem was made worse by COVID-19, which pushed many consumers to shop online and shun physical stores. Months before the pandemic, a commission on empty retail spaces recommended putting together temporary initiatives to fill the vacant storefronts.
Commercial vacancies in Montreal’s downtown core rose to 34 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 from 28 per cent three months earlier, according to a report published in May. Twenty-four per cent of Ste-Catherine St. W. storefronts stood empty.
Most of the 22 buildings that are taking part in Créer des ponts are located downtown. They include landmarks such as Place Ville Marie, Complexe Desjardins and Place des Arts. Artists will also ply their trade at the Eaton Centre, the Palais des congrès, the Rockland Centre and the Nordelec building in Pointe-St-Charles, among others.