Published Jul 21, 2017Like any creative and philosophical person, Sol Guy thinks a lot about the state of art in modern society. But there was one question in particular he couldn't stop pondering in the fall of 2015.
The former music industry professional-turned-TV-producer-turned-content creator was walking around all-night Toronto arts festival Nuit Blanche with former Universal Music Canada CEO Randy Lennox when the then-newly appointed head of Bell Media's Content and Broadcasting asked him what artist development looked like in this day and age.
"But not just for musicians," the former Rascalz and K'naan manager says. "For visual artists, actors, writers, producers, directors — all different disciplines."
What Guy kept coming back to was physical space.
"Sometimes a lot of people just need a space to sit and write, to be quiet, or someone to bounce their ideas off of, or a studio to go into, or they might need an editor, or a little bit of money for production," he says. "Can we build a physical space that can facilitate that?"
The answer was yes.
Last year, Guy and his team took over 1196 Queen Street West, part of a historic building (that also houses the Gladstone Hotel) — nestled right next to Toronto's bustling, burgeoning, arts-focused Parkdale neighbourhood — and quickly transformed it into a multipurpose space for creative types. They named it DAIS. The word (with Latin, Old French and Middle English roots) means platform, but Guy describes the project as more of a "launch pad" designed to "catapult" artists to the next level.
There's no formal application process to use the space. Instead, as word spread about the building and its many amenities — including a full recording studio, radio/podcast suite, 4K video editing room and street-level art gallery/performance/discussion space, to name a few — so too did DAIS's connections to the arts community around them.
When DAIS's partnership with Bell Media was announced in November 2016, industry insiders were quick to compare it to business competitor Rogers Media's similar partnership with Vice the previous year.
But for Guy, DAIS is not so much a content generator, but an "artist first media company," comparing the selection process for collaborators to something like A&R scouting at a record label, and the end product as being the perfect balance between art, commerce and social change (something close to Guy's heart — he did a 2010 TEDx Talk in Toronto about the subject).
"Bringing an artist in, helping develop an idea… there's value in making it, because when that artist's idea gets actualized, maybe 30 people get to work on it, and everybody's skill levels up," he says. "We want to be the add-on to what people are doing. When we add value and things elevate, everybody can share in the success."
And, since opening their doors, Guy says there's been "no shortage of unbelievable ideas."
Previous and current collaborators include: DJ trio A Tribe Called Red (with whom DAIS helped create a four-part music video series with for recent album We Are the Halluci Nation); Canadian hip-hop producer/rapper Rich Kidd (who was working in studio the day of our visit); label/artist management groups Pirates Blend and Cadence; youth-focused arts and business initiative The Remix Project; digital radio station iHeartRadio Canada (which broadcasts a program focused on hip-hop, R&B, soca and Afrobeat recorded in the basement)l; Rakhi Mutta and her Brampton-based romantic web dramedy about life and love in Canada's South Asian community, Anarkali (they're currently editing its third season and hope it gets picked up by CraveTV); and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them star Ezra Miller (whom Guy first met at Burning Man, and is partnering with to create a socially conscious travel-adventure show similar to Guy's previous project 4REAL), to name just a few.
If there's a through-line, it seems to be the proliferation and promotion of artists, issues and narratives that have previously been ignored. (One of DAIS and Guy's biggest successes to date is "I Am a Man," a short film created in partnership with CNN's short-form production house Great Big Story that looks at the American prison system — and its affect on the black community — through a mixture of dance, music and words from social justice activist Bryan Stevenson).
There's also a focus on promoting Canada as a whole. Having spent the past decade or so between Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, Guy says he's seen how our country's art and artists get "absorbed into America."
"People forget who Canadians are," he says. He hopes DAIS can help his collaborators find international success, while also highlighting its country of origin and its other amazing talents.
In some ways, the building's décor — whether it's books by Naomi Klein, a painting of Muhammad Ali, a stack of Black Panther comics, or a chopped and screwed canoe now used as a book shelf and coffee table — seems to represent both focuses and inspire its in-house collaborators at the same time.
Still, DAIS is hard to fully describe, even for its creator.
"I keep trying to explain it, and in some ways I can't," he says. "And that's fine. I'm not disappointed because I can't completely articulate what it's going to be, because, let's be honest, I don't know exactly. I know the purpose, I know the direction, I have the vision. How we get there? That's part of what's fun."