Located in the heart of Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood, the TransAlta Arts Barns is a versatile new venue that hosts a variety of events from meetings to theatrical performances. Since 1995, the Arts Barns have been home to Fringe Theatre Adventures and a number of other local community and arts groups.
The TransAlta Arts Barns were developed to ensure that the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, the largest and oldest fringe theatre festival in North America, would have a permanent and secure home.
Originally, the buildings were service garages for Edmonton Transit. Then, the industrial facility underwent a number of renovations and overhauls as various local organizations came to occupy the space. Finally, the transformation of the facility into a community cultural amenity was linked to the redevelopment of the surrounding Old Strathcona neighbourhood. Several Old Strathcona community and cultural groups – such as the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, and Fringe Theatre Adventures (responsible for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival), adopted the buildings and affectionately renamed them the Arts Barns.
It soon became apparent that the Arts Barns would not be able to meet the rapidly growing needs of the Fringe Theatre Festival and other community groups without major renovation and expansion. Julian Mayne, the executive director of Fringe Theatre Adventures and TransAlta Arts Barns, recounts: “In 2000, the company, with the support of the community and the organizations it serves, initiated a capital campaign, focusing on redeveloping the facility into a suitable home for all of its stakeholders.”
By 2002, Fringe Theatre Adventures had secured most of the necessary funding for the redevelopment project. In the late 1990s, TransAlta Corporation became an important partner in the project by providing major capital and operating support, and continues to support the facility.
The community played an important role in the transformation of the Arts Barns into the TransAlta Arts Barns. Input regarding the use of the renovated space was sought not only from resident arts and cultural groups, but also from the surrounding community. While parts of the original building were left intact to retain some of its heritage components, a significant portion was rebuilt to better serve the community’s evolving needs.
By the fall of 2002, demolition of the old Arts Barns had begun, and the construction of a new and exciting multi-purpose community arts complex for Old Strathcona and the City of Edmonton was underway. The project was completed in just 10 months at a cost of 9.5 million dollars.
The TransAlta Arts Barns are owned by the City of Edmonton with a 30-year lease to Fringe Theatre Adventures, which is entirely responsible for facility rentals, overall facility maintenance, and all capital replacements and upgrades.
In addition to providing a permanent home for the Festival, the TransAlta Arts Barns were also developed to meet the needs of a growing revitalized neighbourhood. There was a demonstrated need for a community-friendly cultural facility of this size, not just in Old Strathcona, but also in Edmonton and in Alberta in general. Although there are a number of non-arts-specific facilities available for rental to community groups in Old Strathcona, the demand for such spaces far outweighs the supply.
There was also a need for a flexible community event and meeting space with subsidized rental rates that could accommodate several diverse community groups and their full range of needs – from large construction workshops, meetings, fundraisers, and banquets, to performances and educational workshops. The Arts Barns facilitate social, cultural, and economic development in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood.
As in many urban centres, there is an acute need for affordable arts spaces in Edmonton. The Fringe Theatre Adventures Society sees keeping rents at the Arts Barns affordable for non-profit groups in the face of rising utility, insurance, and other service costs as an ongoing priority and challenge. The Society, in partnership with the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Arts Council, is working to find new sources of funding to keep rent affordable and for new ways to meet the needs of the community – particularly new and emerging artists, new audiences, and new cultural forums.
The renovation of the TransAlta Arts Barns has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people visiting and using Edmonton’s Old Strathcona historical district and has contributed to the overall increase in traffic to local businesses. The facilities serve as the venue for a wide range of community events such as dance classes, community meetings, AGMs, and weddings. The Barns also host comprehensive theatre and music programming year round. The TransAlta Arts Barns are at the centre of the Edmonton Theatre District, which now has six theatres in a one-block radius, forming a distinctive heart to the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival and a destination arts and entertainment centre for Edmonton and Alberta.
For more information, please visit: www.fringetheatreadventures.ca
Written by Erin Schultz with Julian Mayne (2007)
Amenities within facility/space
PCL Studio Theatre
Studio A (capacity 60)
Studio B (capacity 45)
Cohos Evamy Boardroom (capacity 59)
Lobby (capacity 180)
Location (and 2006 population)
Edmonton, Alberta (1,034,945 – Census metropolitan area)
Original cost to build
Annual operating budget
Number of resident organizations
Number of organizations/groups using facility per year
Number of events per year
Number of visitors per year Not available
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