The Freedom Factory is a yoga studio and art gallery located in the West Queen West neighbourhood of Toronto, bordering Parkdale. It's a no commission, no submission fee art gallery run by mother-daughter team Melanie Pinto and Tiffany MacIsaac. The duo believes that creativity is not a talent you're born with, rather a state of mind. Whether you're an accountant or fine artist when you live from a place for creative thinking opportunities are endless. They use movement, meditation and energy work to teach people how to harness their own creative energy. These workshops and private events subsidize the commission normally charged to artists. They do charge a hanging fee but try to keep the hanging fee accessible and lower than most galleries. The business name is inspired by Andy Warhol and also reflects that they want people to have total freedom of expression. Freedom to create, freedom from the structure of things, freedom from the "shoulds". "You should hang your show this way", "you should only create one thing that you're good at".
They are both Reiki practitioners. Melanie is a Reiki Master and does Kundalini yoga and is a writer. Tiffany is an artist and has a background in fundraising, events, and hospitality. Tiffany says they are a really good team because she's good at ideas and not as good at the follow through whereas Melanie is very organized and detail oriented and makes things happen. She's also an amazing writer and adds all the finesse to everything. If it weren't for her, all the ideas probably wouldn't happen. They started working on a workshop together that took them into corporate environments teaching people that creativity equals productivity. They use art and creative tools along with yoga, movement and meditation to teach how to be in that creative headspace. Sometimes they use painting, Play-Doh or writing as tools to get people to let go. MacIsaac said that when they do the corporate workshops, it's not always about teaching people how to quit their job and become an artist. It can be about creating the most detailed spreadsheet, it can be how you communicate with co-workers. When they first started teaching the workshops she remembers watching a bunch of men in suits sitting around a boardroom table playing with Play-Doh. "It's amazing. It's the most satisfying thing ever. It's usually the person who doesn't think they need it who by the end is the most into it and doesn't want to leave." On the side, she was curating art shows. The shows really took off and eventually grew into them having their own space. They have been at Dovercourt for the past two years and are working together with galleries in the area (Propeller, The Modern, Zwig, Twist, The Gladstone, The Drake) to brand Lisgar as an accessible, diverse art scene. They want people to know just how many interesting spaces there are in this small space.
When MacIsaac started showing her own work she realized that there are so many costs associated with being an artist, aside from the materials. It's your time, it's sometimes paying to submit to shows, then the hanging fees, and then galleries typically take 25-60% commission. So at the end of the day after you add on your time and your supplies, even if you are selling a piece for $10,000 you may only make $1000. She also felt like a lot of the shows that were out there for emerging artists didn't necessarily have a lot of value to be in them. She and Pinto created a show called VAM (Visual Arts Movement). They didn't have a space at the time and were renting event spaces to put on the show. The purpose was to give emerging artists a platform to show their work in a no submission fee and commission free environment and as well have a guarantee that there were people coming to the show who will buy and who can make a difference in an artist's career. It's a juried show and there are prizes (cash, exhibition opportunities, art supplies) that can help further an artist's career. They host 50 plus exhibitions per year and there have been a lot of big names in the group shows, but MacIsaac's favourite show is the VAM show. Often she finds artists whose work she loves and reaches out to them. The 2017 winner, Nick Shinbin had never shown his work before. After the win, he was exhibiting at The Artist Project less than a year later. She says "We're giving artists a platform to take things further whether they've never shown before or have already been in big shows like The Artist Project. With commissioned galleries it's frustrating because you need to have a track record of sales to get in, because that's how they make profit, but how do you get that? Often just giving a platform to get in can very quickly launch a career."
Her own creative practice is inspired by women and the way they are portrayed in the media, the strength that they have, and also by live music. Most of her ideas come to her when she's standing at a concert. When asked how she balances her own creative practice she admitted that "My own creative practice falls behind a little bit, but that's definitely a choice. I can make time to work on my own art, but I think that curating and hanging shows is also a creative practice. These walls never change. Whatever show or artist is coming in, being able to take their work and their vision and give this room their identity, that to me is a painting in its own way. I'm enjoying it these days more than painting. I'll throw my stuff in group shows here and there and I try to do my own solo exhibition at least once a year. When we finish hanging a show and we step back and see an artist seeing something they've been working on for a year come to fruition, that keeps us going."
The current show is up until June 26th. It's a collaboration with Street Art Toronto. 15 murals by Indigenous artists were commissioned by Street Art Toronto. The murals span all of the GTA from Pickering to Mississauga. Because the murals are so spread out it may be difficult for people to see them all in person. The exhibition features photos of all of the murals so you can see them all together.
A friend of Pinto's is a teacher in Sioux Lookout who has been working with a group of Indigenous students. He was sending photos of the art they were making. They were coming to Toronto in early June for their grade 8 grad trip. The Obishikokaang Elementary School students raised $20,000 selling beef jerky to fund the trip. Pinto and MacIsaac offered them an exhibition when they were in Toronto. The student artwork was displayed for a night along with pieces from the current show. You can watch a video from the night here.
MacIsaac envisions The Freedom Factory moving into a more international and tech capacity. Her dream show is something like a conference that incorporates different modalities on a larger scale. In the immediate future, she wants to expand on Sights and Sounds, a show she did last year. The show featured photographs of Toronto musicians shot by Kadeem Ellis, abstract work created by Freedom Factory yoga teacher Jenna Bowler-Cooke while she listened to one of the musician's songs on repeat, and MacIsaac contributed her own art by painting a portrait inspired by the photograph and the abstract, blending the two together. All three pieces of work were hung with Spotify scan codes and headphones on the wall so you could listen to the music. Opening night featured a concert with all the musicians performing the songs. She wants to take that Sights and Sounds concept and make it huge. Think big names mixed with emerging artists, sponsored by Spotify, at Union Station or in a public place where people can explore and discover a new artist, and YouTube scan codes so you can watch people dancing to those songs, or writing poetry inspired by the songs. "It takes me a long time to flesh out the concepts in my head, but once they are fleshed I'm go go go. I don't like to do things small. I like to do it as big and grand as I can."
Follow The Freedom Factory to see what's showing next. The space is also available to rent for pop-ups, influencer events, engagement dinners. The art makes a great backdrop for events.
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Story and photos by Glodeane Brown. Photo of Tiffany MacIsaac provided by Tiffany MacIsaac.