Why I love the 519

There aren’t a lot of spaces anymore that are beautiful and are for everyone. Museums and public galleries have strict entry fees; hotel lobbies, upscale bars, private art spaces and corporate buildings enforce the demographic of those in attendance with sideward glances and the expectation to purchase expensive goods. Community spaces that are safe for people who are poor, transient, or just want to be left alone and not buy things are usually limited to unkempt parks, libraries and rec centres with stiff post-70s architecture, little air conditioning and a strict minimum paid of attention to the aesthetic.

The 519 Community Centre on Church Street, in Toronto’s gay village, defies all those expectations.

This community centre, featured within a hitoric building, combines elements of old and new architecture with classic dark wood tables, leather chairs, and modern interior design. Contemporary art donated by Salah Bacir hangs on the walls, and potted flowers stand in a row, getting light from big bay windows.

Today, I fell asleep on the sofa while transcribing some notes. I—along with an equally dozy gentleman beside me, reading a book about gender norms—was gently woken up by the front manager. She laughed and explained that normally, when snoring came from the sofas, it was from people outside who had drank a bit too much in the park. They, just like we, were welcome here, to rest and refocus without too much harassment or judgement.

Places this gorgeous are not normally available for everyone. We’re so focused on service delivery and on problem solving that we’ve lost our understanding of the importance of the aesthetic. In a world where our success is measured by our contribution to capital, it’s freeing to be able to rest somewhere with brick interior and a wrought-iron staircase without feeling either guilt or fear. Our lives are constantly defined by making ourselves useful, working our asses off until we’ve earned the privilege of luxury or celebration, but in truly gay style, the big windows and granite countertops of this building say “fuck that—life’s enjoyment is our entitlement.”

Within these walls, I know we can take luxury back.


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