Artspace Helps Artists Remain in Neighborhoods They Revitalize

It’s a paradox that artists who pioneer the renaissance of blighted industrial neighborhoods often are displaced when the areas become gentrified. Artspace Projects, Inc., a non-profit, real-estate developer, offers an alternate solution. The organization, which was founded in Minneapolis in 1979, rehabilitates and manages mixed-use buildings in rundown areas, paving the way for neighborhood revitalization but ensuring that affordable work and living spaces remain for the area’s artists.

Typically, arts groups, cities, or counties contact Artspace for assistance. The organization helps these partners find and convert a suitable building (Artspace almost always reuses buildings that have an industrial history and architectural heritage); it also provides partners with development services like asset management, consulting services, and neighborhood-building activities. In the late ’80s, Artspace realized it needed to take a more aggressive and holistic approach to community development, so it now also plans and develops arts centers, museums, arts facilities, and entire arts districts that complement its housing initiatives.

Currently, Artspace owns or co-owns and manages over $60 million worth of property in ten states. These holdings include more than 500 units of live/work, studio, office, exhibition, and performance space used by more than 3,000 artists and arts organizations.

For its mixed-use projects, Artspace tries to attract what Wendy Holmes, the organization’s vice president for resource development, calls “arts-compatible businesses: jazz clubs, coffee shops, and galleries.” These retail tenants are charged a slightly higher rent than the residential tenants in the building, so that the Artspace projects can, in effect, pay for themselves. “The projects generate a positive cash flow,” says Holmes, noting that the organization has never needed to ask a partner community for funds to keep a project going post-construction.

In some instances, Artspace works in communities that have already begun redevelopment efforts, and for which their contributions will be one piece of a larger scheme; in other communities, like in Bridgeport, Connecticut, city officials are looking for the Artspace project to be the premiere catalyst for neighborhood redevelopment. (The organization’s first initiative in Bridgeport, the Sterling Market Lofts, is currently accepting tenants and will open this fall.)

In the case of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Artspace is working on three buildings (the first of which is currently under construction) that will be critical elements of the Gateway Arts District, a new initiative to leverage the arts as an economic development tool. Because the area is peppered with more used car dealerships than old warehouses, Artspace will be constructing the loft spaces from scratch.

It might seem peculiar that Artspace has not yet tackled New York City, the Mecca of arts in the United States. While Artspace has not officially begun working on any specific projects there, it has begun to sift through the possibilities in the area. The Warhol Foundation is funding Artspace to identify an artists’ project in one of the five boroughs, and Artspace is working with groups in Lower Manhattan, Queens, and the South Bronx. Holmes said that because of the desertion of Lower Manhattan after September 11, there are many buildings available with ample space suitable for artists.

Finding and developing such a building would be a boon for New York artists, as they—like their peers in other urban areas—continue to suffer from a property boom that has driven up costs and forced them out of areas they’ve helped revitalize. Artspace helps redress this trend, for by procuring and developing space for artists, it provides neighborhoods with the tools they need to become viable and remain diverse.

Categories: Cities