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A Guide for Creating and Preserving Affordable Artist Spaces

Making the Case

Making the case for why an artist space should become a part of a community is key to any successful development. But before you jump in you should figure out a few things first:

  • Is there a track record of artist spaces in your community? Do artists, developers, funders, and public agencies have experience with artist space? Has this experience been positive or negative?
  • Are there advocates for artist space? Are there advocates for artist space, such as neighborhood groups, art associations, or city/town employees? Are artists organized and vocal in supporting artist space?
  • Is there an artist space intermediary? An experienced agency or individual(s) who can help bring all the needed parties together? Can this intermediary effectively communicate with the involved parties?
  • What is the political climate? Is the city or town trying to attract artists as residents or business owners? Do artists have financial or other incentives to locate there?
  • Are there any policy priorities or programs intersecting with artist space? Is there a stated policy that can be enhanced by artist space, such as an interest in the creative economy, creative clusters, artist districts, or historic preservation?

Sometimes networking to see who has come before trying to accomplish similar goals may yield valuable lessons and advice. At the Mass Cultural Council, we are always willing to share our experience and insights. Please feel free to contact Jay Paget.

Points to Consider

People involved in the development of artists' spaces find themselves time and again advocating for these projects to funders, municipal officials, individual investors, other artists and the community in general. As 'case making' evolves, here are some points to consider and possibly use to educate and influence those whose support could make all the difference in the development of artist space:

  • First and foremost, projects should address a need for real and specific space that is suitable for the type of artwork made, e.g., sculpture, music, dance, robots, food prep, etc.
  • If relevant, you can talk about how artists' talents may be available to interact with the community. Artist spaces can choose to hold on-site classes, host open studios, present live performances, lectures, and pot-lucks where the community sees and experiences what goes on inside the building.
  • Knowing about the history of a building or neighborhood may prove beneficial as you make the case in the civic halls and town offices you will surely visit. Artist spaces are often improving or re-purposing vacant property, renovating abandoned buildings, and preserving the historic fabric of sections of town.
  • There is an economic ripple effect that is inherent in real estate development, and the development of artist spaces is no different. Your project may need private investors, commercial lenders, architects, construction workers, building inspectors, electricians, and others. If the project and resulting on-going business is successful, what will follow is a myriad of additional economic benefits for the working artists and organized efforts that program activity in the building. Take time to think though the benefits and present them as clearly possible.
  • If you have already conducted research about the feasibility of your space, it is helpful to have a clear and comprehensive presentation. This presentation should ultimately cover:
    1. Evidence that there is market demand for this type of space,
    2. Evidence that the space you have chosen is physically able to meet the need,
    3. Quantifying the costs and skills needed to operate an artist space and analyzed through a business lens,
    4. The financing scenario for the project, and that it aligns with realistic costs.
    Whatever stage your project is in, you will use this presentation to persuade prospective decision makers and investors of the viability of the deal. Having confidence that your deal is feasable and supported by research is key.

Keep in mind that projects often prove to be an effective organizing tool by galvanizing communities and generating community participation.

Next: Acquisition of Artist Space

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