Renovations put Khyber on the move

The Khyber Centre for the Arts has to close its doors indefinitely, but at least half of its tenants have found a new home.

The Khyber Arts Society is moving to 5523 Cornwallis St. Although located in the back of the building, the society shouldn’t be hard to miss, considering the building’s exterior colour: avocado green.

The society was recently given an eviction notice from its building on Barrington Street. In December, Halifax Regional Municipality had the building assessed and found the plaster raised “safety concerns related to the presence of asbestos and lead.”

And the arts society has found a new home — hopefully temporary — in Halifax’s north end.

“It’s about 11,000 square feet so it’s just a big room, but I mean we’re probably going to be shrinking down to probably like a quarter of the size of what we were,” said artistic director Daniel Joyce recently.

“It’s going to be tight, but we’ll still be able to do smaller shows like concerts, and we’ll still be doing art exhibitions, and we’re hoping to do a lot more community activities as well.”

The non-for-profit group was able to afford the new site, which costs $1,000 more than its current rent, after Halifax regional council voted to give it a $45,000 grant in March. The money will subsidize a three-year lease and any needed renovations to the new facility.

The new space was formerly the Shake It Dance Studio.

“It seemed like the best deal out of any space we looked at; it was the most affordable and the landlord was really willing to work with us,” said Joyce, who is having a new floor and light tracks installed, and the walls painted a pristine white.

There’s lots of space still available for rent if any aspiring artists can afford to move in. There are studio and office spaces on the second floor, apartments on the third, and another 1,000 square feet of retail space in the front of the building.

But it’s possible that the society will eventually move back to its old Barrington Street location.

“I don’t think that we know exactly what’s going to happen, but certainly it’s not impossible that the Khyber might be back in there,” said Mayor Mike Savage Monday. “We’ve got to fix that building. I mean you don’t honour a heritage building by letting it fall apart.”

Major renovations could cost $3 million to $4 million and include installing an elevator to bring the building up to health, accessibility and modern standards.

“It had to be done and we’re happy that we were able to help Khyber relocate and we’ll see what happens when the building is fixed.”

Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, the other tenant of 1588 Barrington St., is still homeless, but has narrowed its options to two other heritage buildings.

President Linda Forbes is hopeful the space will continue to be a strong arts and cultural presence.

“We’re certainly very keen to see an arts incubator there because that seems like a very good use and something that Barrington Street definitely needs, that the downtown needs.”

Joyce is also on the move. After being the director of the society for five years, he is leaving to pursue a master’s in visual studies degree at the University of Toronto in August.

A job call for a new director of the arts society will come out in May.

“It will be a really exciting opportunity for somebody to be able to potentially develop a three-floor art centre in downtown Halifax,” said Joyce.

One of the first events to be held by the Khyber Arts Society will be Art In Fest, an arm of the annual Obey Convention.

And Claire Greenshaw has a show in the new space June 13.

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