In February 2020, the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning hit a major milestone, marking five years since it first opened its doors to the public on January 31, 2015. Thousands of community members came to the Tett Centre that day to celebrate the launch of this new accessible and collaborative arts hub in Kingston. That opening day also featured the presentation of a collaborative art project called The Whole Shebang that involved a cross-section of local artists who came together to engage visitors and demonstrate the potential of this new facility.
To celebrate its fifth anniversary, the Tett Centre tenants, project supporters, funders and community partners gathered at an event on January 30 and the Tett Centre hosted an Open House that welcomed 1,800 Kingston residents through the doors on Family Day on February 17. Both events reflected what we’ve seen over the last five years, that the public is engaged and supportive of the Tett and curious to learn more and be involved in community and the arts.
Photo: Susanna Gordon Photography
Photo: Tett Centre
If you haven’t visited yet, the Tett Centre functions as a community resource that houses eight anchor arts organizations, eight artist studios and a variety of rental spaces as well as The Juniper Café. The Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning that operates and activates the facility is an incorporated not-for-profit charitable organization with its own staff and a Board of Directors and its work is supported by the City of Kingston that owns and renovated this important heritage building. The building itself originally formed part of the Morton Brewery and Distillery Company, which was built in the mid-19th century. Today, the Tett Centre is part of a one-of-a-kind arts campus that also includes the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts that is owned and operated by Queen’s University.
Very few communities have access to a resource like the Tett Centre and the journey to get here has been a long one, dating back almost 50 years. The City of Kingston actually purchased the former Morton Brewery and Distillery Complex back in 1971 when it was repurposed as the J.K. Tett Creativity Complex that housed groups like the Kingston Potters’ Guild, the Handloom Weavers and Spinners and Theatre 5.
For the next 30 years, the building continued to function as an informal arts cluster until 2005 when the City considered selling it. At the time, the tenant organizations within the building joined forces with the wider community to save the building from being sold and their efforts paid off. The City developed a feasibility plan in 2006 that subsequently lead to a commitment by City Council to renovate the building as a purpose-built arts hub.
An important idea highlighted as part of the 2006 feasibility plan is that developing creative talent with a community is critical to entrepreneurship and competitiveness as well as social cohesion and civic expression. As stated at the time, “creative capital” has become a primary resource for cities looking to build prosperity and resiliency.
This idea was highlighted again in 2010 as part of the Kingston Culture Plan and it continues to be recognized today as part of the Strategic Priorities of the current City Council that has identified the need to foster innovative arts, culture and social enterprises as a way to strengthen economic development opportunities. The Tett Centre embodies this idea and plays a critical role in creating creative capital, cultural vitality and creativity in Kingston.
Today, the City of Kingston continues to provide funding and facility support but it’s the responsibility of the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning staff, board and tenants to offer Kingston residents and visitors with access to this unique facility. Their efforts activate the building and make it a place for people to be creative, to learn and to gather together through a shared interest in the arts.
In the past five years, tens of thousands of people have passed through the doors at the Tett Centre as members of the tenant organizations, participants in classes, workshops and events and as patrons of The Juniper Café. The building has also become popular as a rental space with exhibits taking place in the Community Gallery, performances happening in the Rehearsal Hall and weddings being held in the Malting Tower. There are so many ways to get involved with the Tett Centre but, first and foremost, it is a place to “explore, create and be inspired”.
Getting to this point has taken a lot of work, and hasn't always been easy, but the Tett Centre has been a resounding success and it has also emerged as a model facility other communities are looking to emulate. The Tett Centre is one of only a handful of examples in Canada of a successful, community-driven space dedicated to the arts. There is much to celebrate in this moment, not the least of which is that this experiment in municipal/community collaboration has established a solid foundation from which to build creative capital over the next five years and hopefully for many more years to come.
Information about the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning can be found online here , including information about its history and who is there.