BY: Christina Palassio
PHOTO COURTESY OF: Massey Hall / KPMB Architects
Prince. Joni Mitchell. Miles Davis. Buffy Sainte-Marie. These are just some of the legendary artists who’ve taken the stage at Toronto’s venerable Massey Hall, Canada’s oldest concert hall. And even though concerts and events are suspended for the time being, thanks to COVID-19, many Canadian artists still dream of joining that roster of musicians. Yet with small venues closing up and streaming services making it next to impossible for artists to earn a living, the road to headliner status isn’t always straightforward.
“The middle class of artists who are household names that you would believe to be very successful are really struggling,” says Jesse Kumagai, CEO of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. “Part of the work we do is to help create sustainable careers for those artists by eliminating barriers and helping to accelerate those careers.”
Yet after Massey Hall’s 125 years in use, protecting its continued mission, as well as its architectural significance, has necessitated a restoration. The Massey Hall Revitalization project has been under way since 2017 and is giving the iconic building a refurbished main auditorium, new retractable floor seating and state-of-the-art recording and broadcast equipment, among other upgrades. The project also involves the addition of a whole new space: the seven-floor, 65,000-square-foot Allied Music Centre at Massey Hall, which will sit south of the historic venue. The centre will feature two smaller performance spaces, where up-and-coming artists can cultivate new audiences; recording and rehearsal studios; classroom and programmatic spaces; and collaborative workspaces. The result? A one-stop shop for musical education, artist development and performance.
“There’s an incredible affinity between our and Allied’s visions of what makes a city a livable space,” says Kumagai. “When we shared our vision for the space with Allied, they saw the value and the importance right away and were able to step up to support it. They were the catalyst.”