Artspace was born from the idea that Winnipeg needed an arts centre in its historic warehouse district. For years, the area had housed a large percentage of the city’s artists and small arts organizations. During the 1960s and 70s a solid arts community developed in the declining district as space, while not exactly luxurious, was affordable in the underused heritage buildings. An area east of Main street was designated as the cultural district and the Centennial Concert Hall and buildings to house the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature and the Manitoba Theatre Centre were constructed.
In 1980, the Winnipeg Core Area Initiative, a tri-level, $90 million plan to revive Winnipeg’s downtown was announced. As part of the Core Area Initiative hearings, Winnipeg’s arts community successfully lobbied to have arts accommodation included as part of the Historic Area Development program.
Two proposals were studied: a performing arts centre, and a literary and visual arts centre. An inventory of the Warehouse District buildings was conducted. Based primarily on the lack of suitable clear span space required for a performing arts centre, the establishment of a literary and visual arts centre in the Gault building was recommended to the Core Area Initiative in 1983.
From this recommendation, Artspace Inc., a non-profit arts corporation was constituted in 1984 to coordinate the development of the arts centre. Negotiations with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba resulted in the Manitoba Centennial Centre Corporation assuming ownership of the Gault building and leasing it to Artspace for a term of ninety-nine years for one dollar per year.
After a two-year renovation, the 55,000 square foot Artspace building opened its doors with fourteen founding tenants on October 30th 1986. Artspace’s success spurred further development of what was then a challenged neighborhood and acted as a catalyst for what was to become known as the Exchange District, Winnipeg’s cultural centre.
And now, thirty years later, Artspace is a leader in Winnipeg’s arts and cultural community. Artspace houses artist studios, writing studios, a gallery, a movie theatre, and eighteen arts and cultural organizations working in film, video, book publishing, magazines, visual arts, theatre, music, and photography.