Archiving QTBIPOC spaces through sound: 187 Augusta

In a city where queer of colour DIY arts spaces are disappearing, this soundscape piece produced by Joanna Delos Reyes aims to archive and honour 187 Augusta as a space for QTBIPOC creation, art, community and healing. 187 Augusta is a queer of colour-led arts space founded in 2017 and directed as a lively arts space by Cat Calica until 2020.

The image depicts people sitting closely together in a crowded room watching a performer who is in front of the mic and a large window in the background with a view of trees. Image credit: courtesy of 187.

This soundscape features a collection of audio from found videos, and sound clips recorded in DIY spaces, including 187 Augusta. Weaved throughout the soundscape are pieces of an interview with organizers Cat Calica and Marie Sotto. Their words are responses to some of the questions I asked them about organizing and living at 187 and their neighborhood of Kensington Market.

Archiving QTBIPOC spaces through sound: 187 Augusta
Joanna Delos Reyes

The backdrop of this soundscape piece is based in Tkaronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood and focuses on 187 Augusta, a queer of colour-led arts space that was founded in 2017. Designed as a mixed-used building, the house is owned by an elderly Korean couple, Mr. & Mrs. Lau, who have rented out the main storefront and backroom living space to artists and entrepreneurs for over 10 years. Prior to 187 Augusta, another queer-led arts space called VideoFag was run there by playwrights and theatre directors William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill. They lived in the space and hosted a similar mix of performance, visual arts and theatre events there. Written in VideoFag’s closing year as a foreword to The VideoFag Book (2017), entitled “Love letter to VideoFag”, community member Jon Davis writes, “I love your intergenerational commitments, a dynamic social space that is not afraid of difference or disharmony, a space that is better than safe” (p. 12). Davis’ words ring true as the intergenerational commitments continued on when the space was passed down to a collective of youth spearheaded by Cat Calica and later joined by Marie Sotto, which they named, after the address, 187 Augusta. As I engaged in conversation with Calica and Sotto, it was clear that 187 Augusta continued this commitment towards creating a space that was unapologetic and unafraid. 

Akin to Davis’s sentiments of disharmony, difference, and safer-than-safe space, I interpreted Calica and Sotto’s experiences with 187 Augusta as a refusal of conformity. To me, conformity is related to the limitations set forth by the extractive nature of capitalist models of creative production. Echoing what Ren-yo Hwang (2019) describes as the queer possibilities of deviance and QTBIPOC radical relationalism , the journey of 187 Augusta embodies the failures, play and queer family bonds and kinship that in Hwang’s words “might itself be the sometimes inauspicious work of abolitionist praxis” (p. 563).  Spaces like 187 Augusta refuse to create art inside a vacuum (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2008, p. 152), in that 187 Augusta – and many DIY (Do-It-Yourself) spaces similar to it – subvert capitalist urbanization’s obsession with linear progression, stability, and growth to dream up something more than the neoliberal, colonial, and capitalist landscape we are situated in in this present moment. Calica describes the running of this DIY space as riding a wave and a roller coaster, that brings along with it  the “high ups and then the low to the lows” [00.00.16s-00.00.25s] (Calica, personal communication, June 1, 2021). She thus describes 187 Augusta as the result  of creative survival, a space that strives to exist despite the mercilessness of Toronto’s gentrification, in all its complexities, messiness, and unapologetic nature to center QTBIPOC and other marginalized voices. The self-described “transformative arts space” (Freer, 2017) is at the core a passion project between a group of friends that dreamed of creating something bigger than themselves (Maree-Brown, 2019). 

When asked about the inspiration behind 187 Augusta, Calica replied that it was meant to be a “place to play ” (Calica, personal communication, June 1, 2021). Sotto added to this that the intention of just naming the space after the address of the building was to keep the space open to anyone’s interpretation,  thus inviting a sense of freedom and creation. Sharing deeply, and feeling deeply (Maree-Brown, 2019), the two ran the space as co-collaborators, alongside a network of artists and communities. The co-created culture of pleasure sharing is shot through by the power of the erotic, as described by by Audre Lorde (1993) and echoed in Maree-Brown’s (2019) teachings on pleasure activism. 

My interest in studying 187 Augusta comes from my personal experience of the space, and the realization that no archival work has so far been done about 187 Augusta. The City of Toronto is commonly regarded as an incubator for music and the arts, yet ironically the city has been losing local arts and music venues at a rapid rate (Canadian Live Music Association, 2020). This further reinforces my desire to remember and honour spaces like 187 August that are often ephemeral and constantly threatened by displacement. 

In 2018, I had a short stint living at 187 Augusta. There, I witnessed the space shape-shift from plant shop to hip-hop cypher in less than 24hr hours. For me, it was a rehearsal space and temporary housing while living on/off on the road as a touring musician. What I was most drawn to were the everyday moments in between the main events, and the bonds and connections between folks that first formed inside the 187 Augusta walls and often continued to develop outside. 

The audio piece that accompanies this reflection is made up of an interview I conducted with Calica and Sotto. Fragments of their conversation are weaved in and out of a soundscape that is comprised of audio found in archival videos, and scratch audio recordings of rehearsal materials that happened in 187 Augusta and other DIY venues around Toronto (both open and shut down). 

Perhaps as a longing for moments of closeness and gathering that I’ve missed due to COVID-19, the sensations of the soundscape can be disorienting, sometimes alienating, and often hopeful. The piece is an attempt at capturing and recreating these moments as a sonic experience. Like the harmonic rides, and dissonance of Robin Kelley’s (2002) account of Thelonious Monk and the Black liberatory practices entanglements with Blues and Jazz music,  the sounds and resonances offered up in this soundscape explore different ways of knowing and feeling. In Kelley’s words, “the most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling.” (11) Though the practice of art, activism, education, and healing may seem disjointed and separate at first thought, what 187 Augusta resists is the colonial-capitalist consumption of creative production that has hidden and erased the collective transformative power and genius of art. Its memories nourish and (re)connect us with our creative spirit. It is part of a counter-archive of QTBIPOC Toronto that helps us imagine a better world free from individualistic capitalist notions of value and property,  towards building a collective practice of care and holding space for and with each other.    

Works Cited

Calica, C. & Sotto, M. (2021, June 1). Personal interview [Online interview]

Canadian Live Music Association. (2020). Re:Venues: A case and Path Forward for Toronto’s Live Music Industry. Nordic City.

Ellis, W. & Tannahill, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Videofag Book. Book*hug Press.

Freer, Nicolas (2017, Sept 4). Inside The 187. The Strand.  

Hwang, R. Y. (2019). Deviant care for deviant futures: QTBIPoC radical relationalism as mutual aid against carceral care. Transgender Studies Quarterly6(4), 559-578.

Kelley, R. D. (2002). Freedom dreams: The black radical imagination. Beacon Press.

Lorde, A. (1993). The uses of the erotic: The erotic as power. In H. Abelove, M. A. Barale, & D. M. Halperin (Eds.), The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Routledge.

Maree-Brown, A. (2019). Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. AK Press. 

Piepzna-Samarasinha, L. L. (2018). Care work: Dreaming disability justice. Arsenal Pulp Press.

Interested in contributing to the Marvellous Grounds blog? Download the Submission Guidelines here.