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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Free wants to be Toronto's incubator for creative culture

free space torontoAs Chris Unwin, the founder of Free, walks down a street near Queen and Bellwoods talking to me on the phone, a man walks by him with an extra large t-shirt that reads: FREE.

He starts laughing mid-conversation at the coincidence, but is then quickly reminded that this culture thing he's creating for Toronto is blowing up because it's already everywhere.

Free is a studio. In more detailed terms "we call ourselves a creator's studio, functioning as an incubator or a community of creative entrepreneurs. photographers, filmmakers and cultural leaders," Unwin offers by way of explanation,

"Our generation has grown up with cameras in our hands, so we're able to tell stories, create fashion, music, adventure, travel, always evolving in front and behind the camera," he says.

This all sounds lovely and nice, but also kind of like this floating idea that I find hard to grasp onto. Who uses Free? Why use Free? Is it free?

free space torontoIf you're a photographer, a videographer, filmmaker, director or artist who needs a place to help grow your already powerful skills, this is the place for you. If you're just a fan of photography and creative culture in general, they like you too, so keep reading. There are three parts to the business, which operates out of a warehouse space off Claremont Street.

First, the studio. Free Studio helps develop content with existing creators such as intellectual properties, long form documentaries, web series and more. They run their own YouTube and Instagram channels called Creator Class to show those projects off.

Second, the agency. "We help creators work with brands to help them create social, experiencial digital content projects, branded content for channels, commercial spots ... helping brands create content with these cultural leaders," Unwin explains.

Finally, the space. It's a 6,500 square feet co-work space designed for the modern creative entrepreneur. There's a gallery space, a co-working environment, a production studio that Canon sponsors, and a fully outfitted Canon creator lab. The best thing about the place is that "it transforms into a space for cultural happenings and discussions at night," Unwin says.

free space torontoTalks, film screenings, art shows, these are the things that the more general and curious public will be welcome to go in and check out.

Some of the events are private by nature, and Free is most definitely still in testing phase on how the space will be used by creators officially (it's free for now, but they'll be moving to another model once they work that out), but many events are open to members of the community.

Unwin, who works together with a core team of content strategists, production management and publishers, just wants a platform in our city for people who are constantly creating incredible things to be able to work together to get even better.

"We're at a threshold point with Toronto's place in global culture," Unwin says. "The feeling is palatable. As community, we feel like it's our responsibility as members of this city to step up our game, not just local or Canadian, but in global content. This is a space where people can come together and by forging those connections create a global culture playing field."

Fans of creator culture can check out episodes and on-going projects from TheCreatorClass community at, and on their YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat channels.

Watch for upcoming gallery exhibitions, panel sessions and more via Free's Instagram.

Photos of Free via @Jedris and @Duepinlac.

by Phil Villeneuve via blogTO

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