John Mason November’21

A “Miracle” in the Making

By John Mason, President, Friends of Guild Park. 

Thanks to a miracle that took more than 30 years, artists and arts programs are about to return to Guild Park & Gardens, at a newly-built facility near the Scarborough Bluffs.
The park’s soon-to-open Clark Centre for the Arts is a 21st century version of the Guild of All Arts, the historic artists’ community that operated on the site for more than 50 years.

Inside Look

The story behind the Clark Centre is a miraculous example of transformative “adaptive reuse.” What started as a basic, two-level storage structure built in the early 1960s is now an expanded, three-storey arts facility designed for the future.
The white stucco building on the edge of Guild Park’s forest is the result of decades of difficult, yet ultimately effective collaboration between:
• the City of Toronto, which is responsible for much of Guild Park,
• many different professionals who designed and shaped the Clark Centre, and
• a wide range of Guild Park supporters–from local residents to artists to performers–who strongly advocated for the arts to come back to the site.

Overcoming Doubts

From the community perspective, a key to bringing the Clark Centre to life were the opportunities to present informed ideas to the project’s decision-makers, then to participate as valued partners in ongoing discussions.
Long before construction started on this $5-million project in 2019, the future of the arts at Guild Park was in doubt. Little progress came after years of talking about different plans.
The arts facility got wrapped up with the fate of the original Guild Inn. This had been a popular hotel and restaurant, founded on the site by the late Rosa and Spencer Clark, owners of the property from 1932 to 1978.

The Couple’s Dream

The Clarks were active philanthropists who greatly impacted the Guild Park area. Their life dream was to make the world better through art. During the Great Depression, the couple moved to the site and established on their property “The Guild of All Arts”–the only artists’ community of its kind in Canada.
The Clarks opened their home to all types of artists and artisans. The Guild became a hub of creative activity and soon, a popular destination for visitors eager to see resident artists in action and to buy their work.
The enterprising Clarks decided to convert their home into the Guild Inn, which grew into one of Toronto’s most popular hotels and restaurant by the 1960s. The Clarks also oversaw the development of adjacent Guildwood Village.
All the while, the Guild of All Arts continued with different artists working and sometimes living on the grounds.

End of an Era

In 1978, the Clarks sold the Guild property to the provincial government. Within a decade, after the Clarks died, the site was managed through a complex network of departments, agencies and private operators.
The Guild declined. Guests stopped coming. Artists left. The Guild of All Arts era ended and the hotel closed in 2001. By 2011, the National Trust for Canada stated that the Guild Inn was at risk of “demolition by neglect.”
Despite such challenging conditions, local volunteers and groups kept alive the Clarks’ dream by:
• producing summertime performances at Guild Park’s landmark Greek Theatre,
• organizing on-site art festivals and events,
• advocating for restoring the park and adding new arts facilities.

Local Advocacy

Strong community support convinced city officials to act. After they addressed the redevelopment of the Guild Inn, their attention turned to the arts facility.
An early concept called to use an existing storage structure on-site to create a “cultural precinct.” This idea required expanding into nearby park woodland. It was an unworkable approach because it encroached on Guild Park’s protected green space.
Park volunteers then advocated to literally raise the roof of the same storage structure. After much public consultation and study, the idea of adding a third floor for arts space proved both innovative and feasible.

Opening for 2022

Thanks to detailed planning by Taylor Hazell Architects and Atlas Construction, the City of Toronto okayed Guild Park’s long-awaited arts facility. The City also approved the community’s call to have the building named after Rosa and Spencer Clark, to remind Guild Park visitors of the couple’s life-long love of the arts.
Some people got to catch a sneak peek of the Clark Centre during recent “preview” events. These early visitors saw inaugural displays by indigenous and student artists, as well as sculptures from the Guild of All Arts era. The City plans to officially open the facility in early 2022, when all equipment is in place and registration begins for the public art programs at the Clark Centre.
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