Artspace Creates the Ultimate Work/Life Balance for Artists

Imagine you’re an artist. Now imagine you’re an artist living in a beautiful flat with high ceilings and loads of natural light. And that’s not even the best part: Your living space is large enough to accommodate your work. You spend all day painting, sculpting, composing … doing that thing you love most. It’s basically a dream come true.

Since 1979, Artspace has been helping artists across the United States pursue their passions by creating affordable spaces for living and making art. Artspace has developed and supported more than 200 cultural facilities, leading to the creation of more than 50 arts facilities across the country.

Artspace calls its work “artist-led community transformation.” And, from their sweet spot at the intersection of affordable real estate and artistic expression, Artspace addresses serious civic and cultural challenges in inspiring and game-changing ways.

The organization advocates for individual artists by building “live/work” spaces that offer the freedom to work in the privacy of their own apartment units. They also develop and support artist studios, art centers and commercial space for arts-friendly businesses.

What is a “Live/Work” Project?

A “live/work” project is a residential building in which each dwelling has 100 – 150 square feet of extra space for an artist to use as a studio. These units have consistent design elements, including high ceilings, large windows, durable surfaces and wide doorways. They’re designed to accommodate and facilitate a variety of creative processes.

Artspace live/work projects also include common spaces such as galleries, meeting rooms and green spaces to encourage gathering, socializing and cooperation. Most Artspace live/work projects are mixed-use buildings that have housing on the upper floors and non-residential space on the lower floors.

Who Can Call an Artspace Project “Home Sweet Home?”

Anyone who qualifies for affordable housing may apply to live in an Artspace project. However, preference goes to applicants who participate in and commit themselves to the arts—even if art isn’t their main source of income.

Artspace defines the term “artist” broadly to include a wide variety of creative work, including traditional art forms, as well as disciplines such as clothing design, weaving and canoe making.

A community-based selection committee interviews all applicants and looks for evidence that each applicant a) is seriously committed to his or her art, and b) will be mindful, positive contributors to the community. The qualification process doesn’t include subjective assessment of the work’s quality.

Once completed, Artspace stays involved as owner-operators of the projects, to make sure they remain affordable for artists over the long term. Artspace also maintains and nurtures partnerships within the communities and among the artists.

From Arts Advocate to Non-Profit Real Estate Developer 

Artspace started out as an advocate for the unique space needs of artists in Minneapolis. And from 1979-1986, it very successfully fulfilled that mission. But its organizers saw artists being displaced as the neighborhoods they pioneered became popular.

Artspace wanted to take a more proactive approach to community change, and so in 1986, Artspace officially became the nonprofit real estate developer it is today. Since then, the scope of Artspace activities has grown dramatically. Artspace is now a national leader in developing affordable space for artists, primarily through the “adaptive reuse” of historic buildings and new construction.

Early Artspace Residential Projects: 1990 – 1995

Artspace’s first three live/work projects took place in Saint Paul: The Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative (1990), Frogtown Family Lofts (1992) and Tilsner Artists’ Cooperative (1993).

In the mid-1990s, Artspace broadened its mission to include non-residential projects. The first of these, the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art (1995), transformed an historic bakery in the Minneapolis Warehouse District into 24 studios for mid-career artists.

Artspace Caves a Historic Landmark and Reignites the Twins Cities Dance Scene

For Minnesotans, one of Artspace’s most well known projects is the revival (and transport) of the famous Sam S. Shubert Theatre, a 1910 construction.

By the early 1980s, Hennepin Avenue was in pretty rough shape. Present-day Block E—where the theatre stood—was one of the city’s most troubled spots for crime and corruption. So, in 1985, the Minneapolis City Council decided to purchase (then destroy) all the buildings on the block, including the Shubert, in order to make a fresh start.

But the idea of losing the Shubert didn’t sit well with Minneapolitans, and resulted in a legal battle that dragged on for a decade. The debate only heated up in 1996 when the Shubert made its way onto the National Register of Historic Places.

Artspace saw an opportunity. The organization proposed moving the beloved theatre to a new location next to the Masonic Temple Building, home of the Hennepin Center for the Arts (HCA). The historic journey from Block E to Hennepin Avenue unfolded over 12 memorable days in February 1999. At 5.8 million pounds, the building was the heaviest ever moved on rubber tires.

Artspace spent the next decade raising enough money to remodel the theater as a home for dance, connecting it to HCA. The final plan included removing the second balcony to create an intimate 505-seat theatre ideal for dance and music.

Renamed for donors and arts advocates Katherine and Robert Goodale, the theatre reopened in September 2011. As an essential part of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, the beautifully restored Goodale Theater helped bring in a new era for dance in Minnesota.

Artspace Reaches Beyond its Minnesota Roots

Since expanding its vision in 1986, Artspace has broadened its activities to include projects in more than 20 states across the country.

In total, these projects represent nearly 1,500 live/work units and millions of square feet of non-residential community and commercial space. Based in the Twin Cities, Artspace has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans and Washington, DC.

Vital Programs for Artists and Creative Organizations

Artspace programs fall into three basic categories: Property Development, Asset Management and Consulting Services.

  • Property Development
    Development projects typically involve adapting older buildings, but can also include new construction. These activities are the most visible of Artspace’s endeavors. As of 2015, Artspace had completed 39 major projects around the country with a dozen more under construction or in development.
    Of these 39, 32 are “live/work” or mixed-use projects that house nearly 1,500 residential units in total. The rest are non-residential constructions that provide space for artists and cultural organizations.
  • Asset Management
    Artspace owns or co-owns all the buildings it develops. The organization works to manage these properties to make sure they’re well maintained but also affordable for low- and moderate-income artists.
  • Consulting Services
    Artspace provides information and advice to communities, organizations and individuals about developing affordable artist housing and workspaces, as well as performing arts centers and cultural districts—often within the context of historic preservation.

The Artspace Process: A Long-Term Local Investment

Artspace visits 15-20 potential sites each year, with a handful of these visits leading to new projects. The development team reviews the project concept, gauging community support, to make their final selections.

In all, Artspace projects usually require about 4-7 years from start to finish. Projects begin with development and community engagement—a process that takes quite a while. Because each project addresses the needs of a specific community, developers spend a lot of time observing and listening to artists, civic leaders and other stakeholders in that community.

Next, developers carefully research and build relationships with a number of public and private funding sources. This thorough approach ensures all Artspace projects have full funding and support by the time construction begins.

Funding for Artspace Projects

Artspace relies on public and private funding sources to create its one-of-a-kind live/work spaces. The organization follows affordable housing guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Private sector funding includes traditional bank financing, plus foundation, individual and community donations.

The majority of Artspace housing units are available to households that earn 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) of the city or county where the project is located.

Artspace Project Milestones Through the Years

  • 1979 – The Minneapolis City Council and the Minneapolis Arts Commission form Artspace to assist artists in finding space in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis.
  • 1986 – Artspace transforms from an advocacy organization to a non-profit real estate organization whose mission is to “create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organizations.” Kelley Lindquist is hired as its first President and CEO.
  • 1989 – Artspace is the first organization in the country to use the Low Income Housing Tax Credit as the basis for financing its first affordable live/work project, the Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative in Lowertown St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • 1995 – Artspace expands its scope and develops affordable, studio-only space with the completion of the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art in Minneapolis.
  • 1998 – Artspace branches out to become a national real estate developer with its project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called the Spinning Plate Artist Lofts.
  • 1999 – Artspace embarks on its most ambitious project to date, with the move of the Shubert Theater (the largest building in the world ever moved on rubber tires) and its conversion into a center for Minnesota dance and music excellence to be called The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts.
  • 2000-2004 – Artspace continues its expansion as a national organization, developing live/work projects in Reno, Nevada (Riverside Artist Lofts); Galveston, Texas (National Hotel Artist Lofts); Chicago (Switching Station Artist Lofts); Seattle (Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts) and Bridgeport, Connecticut (Read’s Artspace).
  • 2009 – Artspace completes its largest housing development to date, the Artspace Tannery Lofts in Santa Cruz, California, which provides 100 units of affordable live/work space for artists.
  • 2011 – Artspace completes construction on The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, the project that began with the move of the historic Shubert Theater in 1999. The Cowles is a three-building complex that supports Minnesota dance, music, and various other arts organizations with administrative, rehearsal, education and performance space.
  • 2014 – The first ever Artspace Awards presented at Breaking Ground – The 2014 Artspace Celebration recognizing the achievements of three individual Artspace resident artists who have shown a commitment to advancing the arts and enriching their communities. Honorees include artists from Artspace Tannery Lofts in Santa Cruz, Brookland Artspace Lofts in Washington DC, and Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts in Fort Lauderdale.
  • 2014 – Artspace launches The Artspace Distance Collaboration Program (ArtBridge); designed to facilitate a network of organizations using videoconferencing and live streaming technology to further their artistic process, creativity and collaboration.
  • 2015 – Artspace’s first New York City project, El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 opens, paving the way for the first permanent, affordable housing for artists in the City in decades. Mayor Bill de Blasio expands his 10-year commitment to affordable housing to include 1,500 units specifically for artists.

View a full list of Artspace projects