The Daily Pulse:

Local Artists Express Interest in Artspace

Artspace, the nonprofit property developer we wrote about a couple weeks ago, is in town and yesterday got to tour several historic buildings Knox Heritage would like to see put to use. Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships, gave a presentation at a public meeting for local artists last night at the Emporium Center for Arts and Culture. 

Holmes and her coworker Teri Deaver, vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships, had just come off a 12-hour day of touring Knoxville and speaking with business owners, developers, and local artists. "I was very impressed!" Holmes announced. 

The presentation started with a few reasons why spaces dedicated to the arts are so important to communities. The live/work and community spaces Artspace helps create increases artist productivity by providing a place that meets their professional needs, and fosters community among artists.

"Arts begets arts. If you put art activities in a place, it attracts more arts," Holmes said. 

She also addressed what's been called "gentrification" of neighborhoods, which she called the "Soho effect."

"Because once artists are in a place, it's just a national phenomenon that property values will go up," Holmes said, causing rents to become unaffordable for most artists. Artspace specifically works to keep rents for live/work apartments and studio space low-cost by applying for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tax credits, historic preservation tax credits, and creating ties with national arts foundations.

The presentation launched into examples of historic buildings across the country--from Houston's Jefferson Davis Hospital to a historic and empty department store in Bridgeport, Conn., to and old tanning campus in Santa Cruz, Calif.--that were renovated and turned into affordable lofts, studio space, galleries, and performance facilities in warehouse neighborhoods. 

Though the buildings are mostly kept economically sustainable through rents, some buildings do have opportunities for small businesses, such as coffee shops, which double as galleries and performance spaces. 

During a Q&A session after the presentation, Holmes assured everyone present that Artspace hires locally to staff their buildings, and that they "are really good stewards of these buildings over time."

"As a nonprofit, we're not taking any money, it all goes back into the projects," Deaver added.

Artspace also encourages the tenants to self-govern; they are given the tools to start newsletters, community gardens, or form connections with other Artspace communities across the country.

"Every building takes on its own personality and every group of artsits does something different with it," Holmes said. 

But even if the momentum for an Artspace project in Knoxville continues to build, it will be several years before it becomes a reality. The fast track for a project takes about three years, but Holmes said a more realistic timeline is five or more years. 

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