When our organization started developing models for artist housing several years ago, we were operating from two basic premises: that artists without an ownership stake are all too often financially pushed out of communities by the positive change they help make; and that vacant properties, when left unchecked, have a huge, detrimental effect on community psychology. If we could help artists purchase extraordinarily affordable, structurally sound but currently vacant houses and storefronts, we realized, we could address both issues in a meaningful way.
It was a simple concept. But as we reflect on how that work has unfolded, we are struck by just how transformative that one idea has become.
Over the past two years, ArtPlace’s investment in the intersection between artist service and reimagining vacant space in Collinwood have exploded into a wide variety of community-driven changes. A new floor is installed in a start-up dance studio in a formerly vacant storefront. A neighborhood artist launches a series of family-friendly movie screenings in vacant lots around our arts district. An art student converts a little-used side yard into a popular new sculpture garden. Artists, from around the corner and around the world, put up 17 murals in a matter of months, many on vacant buildings. An artist converts a vacant house into a new work/live facility focused on installation art. Constructions bids go out for a new ceramics co-op taking over a vacant storefront and industrial garage. Vacant offices turn into rehearsal space for the many bands associated with the Beachland Ballroom.
And on and on and on. We have seen an incredible amount of activity within a short timeframe –with the build-out of vacant space, space ownership for 11 artists and the launch of 36 different community art projects. Individually, any one of these projects might not have much of a ripple in a big neighborhood. But together, they are changing the entire narrative about what makes the Collinwood neighborhood unique, why its future looks bright … Why it is a place of value.
That’s been our ArtPlace experience. This whole whirlwind experience was not always easy; we definitely didn’t suffer from too much down time! It’s taken the simple work that we’ve been engaging in for years and given an even bigger and more profound role to the individual decision maker and the grassroots leader. ArtPlace has enabled our neighborhood stakeholders to reimagine a place they love … And then to see that collective imagination spring to life in real time.
So as we wind to the unfortunate end of our amazing year with ArtPlace, we’re excited to roll up our sleeves and keep that energy and that sense of empowerment alive. Thanks to additional support from The Kresge Foundation, 2014 promises to be a year of even more vacant housing and storefront conversions, the launch of dozens of new artist-led projects … And our first foray into artist live-work apartments.
As we continue in these efforts, we’re going to continue to reach out to our ArtPlace family for advice and inspiration. That’s been our big take-away from the experience – as busy as you get in your placemaking efforts, make sure to take advantage of all the genius in the room! We’ve still got goose bumps about the great work of ArtPlace colleagues like Springboard for the Arts, Power House Productions, City of Asylum and the Wormfarm Institute. These and other voices will continue to touch our approach to placemaking for years and years to come. So don’t be strangers. Let us know how we can help, how we can get engaged with your efforts, how we can continue to make towns and cities across the country vibrant, creative and authentic places.