They don’t make buildings like the old Acker’s Furniture anymore.
That’s the feeling I get as Joy Sammy of 10 Carden (10 C), the Guelph organization that now owns the place, leads me and a group of visitors on a tour.
The tour is part of Culture Days, a yearly nation-wide event that hopes to raise the profile of local arts organizations and involve more people in their communities. 10 C has been doing similar work since 2008, when founders Annie O’Donoghue and Julia Grady leased their first space, from which 10 C gets its name.
Almost a decade later, the move to the Acker’s building — 42 Carden Street, half a block down from their old home — represents a huge leap for the organization.
The new space is at least four times the size of their original facility, and it will also be fully accessible: an important part of 10 C’s vision.
“The stairs might feel like they’re going to collapse, but they won’t,” says Sammy wryly, as we clamber up and down the unfinished stairwells to visit the four floors, roof, and basement of 10 C’s new home.
Walking up those stairs feels like walking through time — each floor is at a different stage in the process of renovation. The first two floors show many signs of activity. The third is largely empty. The fourth is still a barren shell, insulation newly shot into the walls.
Sammy is an adept tour guide, detailing the many needs 10 C’s new building will fill and the many constituencies it will serve — not to mention the building’s history and the many factors involved in renovating it.
We admire the restored hardwood floor and tin ceiling in the sunroom lounge on the second floor. We peer into an ancient safe, which fell through the floor into the basement during a fire decades ago and still sits there. We lean over the railing on the roof and look out across downtown.
Built in the late 19th century, the Acker’s building began its life as a seed warehouse and later housed the Guelph offices of farm equipment manufacturers Massey-Harris, one of Canada’s first multinational corporations.
In 1916, Acker’s Furniture moved in, and for the next hundred years the couches and chairs in the large windows facing Carden Street made a familiar sight. Julia Grady then approached Sid Acker about buying the building and Acker, himself a patron of local artists, found himself sympathetic to their cause.
10 C partnered with Chalmers Community Services Centre to finance the purchase, which totalled just over a million dollars. To get the money, they worked with banks and sponsors, applied for government funding, and reached out to the community.
“We have managed to raise over a million dollars through community bonds,” says Sammy.
“That was something we really wanted to do because it involves the community and this is a community space. Values-wise, it was the right step for us. It’s social financing.”
This move is of particular importance to 10 C, as the organization is in the business of space itself.
As Gryphons no doubt appreciate in the wake of massive renovations to student space in the UC, space is important, and hard to come by — and finding space is as much a challenge for not-for-profits, small businesses, and working individuals as it is for university students.
Hence the rise of “co-working,” where individuals and organizations cohabit offices to reap the benefits of dedicated workspace while diminishing costs. Such configurations often fall under an umbrella organization, which rents the space out or offers memberships with certain benefits.
10 C is one such organization. You might not be able to buy a desk at Acker’s Furniture anymore, but, if you become a 10 C member, you can borrow one. The same goes for meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, event spaces, and more.
But it’s not just about helping folks find a quiet place to work away from the distractions of home or the coffee shop.
A big part of 10 C’s proposition is that the shared nature of their space increases its value.
Everyone at 10 C has their own projects, but “co-working” in close proximity to other creative types gives them fresh energy and perspective. That’s what 10 C hopes to provide — a space where the line between individual and collective achievement disappears.
Not too many staff, mind you. All of 10 C’s juggling is done by just three part-time staffers, including Sammy and Grady. “We’re all jacks of all trades in terms of what we do and we both do bits and pieces of each other’s jobs,” says Sammy. All of them have other careers.
This small team is joined by a legion of dedicated volunteers. “We have volunteers that work at our front desk as hosts every single day nine-to-five. Those people answer the phone and interact with the public. And that gives staff time to do other things for the organization.”
“It’s a chicken and egg thing,” she says. We’d love to have more staff right now, but we can’t. We need the capacity,” says Sammy.
They’ll have that capacity soon.
Construction is almost complete, and the building is starting to hum with activity. The Guelph Arts Council moved in on Aug. 1, and tenant organizations ought to be moving into the third and fourth floors by November, with day-to-day operations running smoothly in the new year.
Patti Broughton, executive director of Guelph Arts Council, echoes Sammy in her thoughts on the new space.
“We’re in a space with lots of other likeminded organizations. There are people coming and going that we can partner with, that we can talk to about the arts, that we can [help] come up with new ideas about how to make Guelph an awesome place to live. Every organization involved in this shared space wants to make Guelph a better place to live,” says Broughton.
“We’re a tenant here in the space,” Broughton continues. “But we’re co-workers like everybody else.”
WHEN COMPLETE, THE NEW 10 C BUILDING WILL INCLUDE:
Fully accessible, 150-person capacity event space
DIY area including silkscreening studio
Soundproof rooms for conflict mediation and therapy
Bathrooms fitted with adult change tables for people with disabilities
Various meeting spaces and presentation rooms
Certified commercial community kitchen
Rainwater collection system to flush toilets
LGBTQ+ library and resource centre
Shared storage room
THE NEW 10 C SPACE WILL BE SHARED BY:
Chalmers Community Services Centre
Guelph Arts Council
Wellington Water Watchers
Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition
Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership
Lawyers, marketers, yoga instructors, and more
Photo by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion.