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“To me, there’s no comparison to seeing a really fantastic, completely unknown musician in a small venue,” says Mary Mowbray. 

And that’s exactly why Mary joined the board of Hugh’s Room Live, an iconic Toronto music venue that’s hosted thousands of artists since opening in 2001, from big names like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot to emerging Canadian talent. 

The intimacy of a venue like Hugh’s Room Live brings something special to each performance, Mary says. “You can be feet from the musicians when they’re performing. You can see them talking to their band and you can see the magic that happens in a live performance.”

But it’s not always easy to run a small venue. 

In 2020, just before the start of the pandemic and facing rising rent, Hugh’s Room had to close its previous location at 2261 Dundas West. For three years, the organization held virtual performances, and when public health guidelines allowed, hosted performances at other venues around the city. But they knew they wanted a permanent home again. So in 2023, Hugh’s Room Live purchased a new home at 296 Broadview Avenue with the support of more than 2,000 community investors and donors. 

Now, Hugh’s Room Live is running another community investment campaign, this time with the goal of raising $1.3 million to help refinance the existing mortgage on the property and reduce their cost of capital. With these savings, the venue plans to expand their programming, build a community space in the basement of the building, and make the space fully accessible — which it currently is not. “That means we can’t accommodate a musician who requires accessibility,” Mary says. “It also limits our audience or puts them in a position where it’s harder for them to get in or they may decide they don’t want to come. We want to be completely accessible.” 

When she’s not working on Hugh’s Room Live projects, Mary works in commercial real estate, so she’s observed the phenomenon of community organizations and small businesses being priced out of their longtime neighbourhoods across Toronto. “I’ve seen that for years and years — independent retailers, like an independent coffee shop getting pushed out for a Starbucks. I see the long term sustainability that ownership offers.”

And Mary is excited about community bonds as a pathway to that ownership for Hugh’s Room Live. “The community bond thing, I think, is so cool because it’s so simple and brilliant,” she says. “It’s an investment that gives you a return and it’s guaranteed with a first mortgage on the building. So it’s very secure.” 

Community investors can choose between three bonds, with a minimum investment of $1,000. Mary says it was important to create an investment opportunity that was accessible to any live music lover who wants to support the venue while earning both a financial and social return. 

“We have to support the arts and we can’t rely on governments to support them,” says Mary. “If there’s stuff that you like and value, then support it. Support it in any way you can. If you like independent coffee shops, go to Red Rocket (in Toronto). If you love independent bookstores, don’t order on Amazon; go to Book City or Scribe. We all make choices…And I think live music has so many many benefits.”

Want to learn more? Get all the details on Hugh’s Bonds here.