Former King Edward School is reborn as hub for the Calgary arts community
Once a sandstone monolith surrounded by bald prairie, King Edward School has seen countless generations of students pass through its hallways. Its slate staircases bear faint grooves from more than a century of feet, including the hard-soled boots of soldiers that once used its basement for rifle-range training.
Now, 105 years later, the inner-city community of South Calgary surrounds the school, which is undergoing a massive $33.5-million transformation into an arts incubator and artistic venue called cSPACE King Edward.
The school closed in 2001, and was eventually acquired by cSPACE, a social enterprise real estate company that provides rental space, property management and community development. Capital funding for the project has come from the City, province, Calgary Foundation and other organizations.
The 31 tenants occupying the facility since January include artists, non-profits and creative entrepreneurs who are able to rent the space at below-market value.
“What does the arts community in Calgary need to thrive? Space has been the number one issue for decades,” said Reid Henry, president and CEO of cSPACE.
“And there is a lack of confidence for artists, makers and designers to make it happen in Calgary. The philosophy around here is that the arts collide with other sectors. We have lots of makers, but also community organizations that connect with the arts.”
Though a glass-encased addition at the west end of cSPACE King Edward is still under construction, the main building had its soft opening in January, showcasing studios, a Montessori school, offices and galleries. Hallways are adorned with framed art and large creative installations, such as a gigantic baby doll.
The first-floor hall is inset with two blue, glass panels, underneath which lies an original boiler door from the century-old facility – which is certified LEED gold — and a time capsule created by cSPACE tenants. Many of the school’s historic components have been retained, including slate floors, wood trim and the original blackboards.
“What does the arts community in Calgary need to thrive? Space has been the number one issue for decades.” – Reid Henry, president and CEO of cSPACE
The glass addition, slated for fall completion, will contain a 125-seat theatre and rehearsal space, an Alberta College of Art and Design teaching space, a communal kitchen, co-working community space for freelancers, and flex space for events that can house up to 60 people. Henry’s vision for the overall cSPACE community is one resembling “a mini Banff Centre.”
The south side of the building will feature a public park with ever-shifting art cubes, and a landscape design meant to mimic King Edward tartan.
Adjacent to the west end of cSPACE King Edward, a three-storey residential development is under construction, which will tie into the arts-based community. The Residences of King Edward by Rockwood Custom Homes will feature 19 luxury flats starting in the $1-million-plus range.
Artist Paula Timm is enjoying her first-ever studio thanks to cSPACE, and says the atmosphere is a perfect fit for her.
“This is a public model that encourages interaction and collaboration and the creation of a community,” she said.
Her multi-windowed studio is strung with colourful paper lanterns, and dotted with digital and mixed-media pieces. Once a month, Timm invites artists of all disciplines to create together in her studio, where she also hosts workshops and classes.
“Being a tenant here has elevated my practice and the awareness of creativity in helping people,” she said. “So just having the general public walk through, I can engage and inspire those that are afraid of finding their creative voices.”