The topic is arts as economic development, which is you know me you might guess I have a soft spot for. I think it’s important for a couple of key reasons. First, artists are adventurous – they will be pioneers in those neighborhoods and buildings you are working hard to revitalize, partly because they are creative and have vision, and partly because they may be short on funds. Second, the arts are a key part of what MAKES a place, and not just performing arts. The performing arts are beautiful and necessary and allow you to experience someone’s mastery. Often, the visual arts, though, also allow you to experience the artistic process and to access that creative atmosphere not just on performance days, but every day.
Artists have always struggled with affording space to create before they hit it big. Many cities struggle with how to preserve the main street and neighborhood commercial areas that were set up for times when live-work space was more common, and to foster a sense of creative community. Could this be a marriage made in heaven?
Paducah is a leader with a 20+ year old program offering artists incentives to live, work, and revitalize a core neighborhood. Besides that, it is a known epicenter of the quilting world – bet you didn’t know that! @KristinWilliams, a friend, recovered economic developer and Paducah artist-entrepreneur knows the town and the program well. She is moving on from her bricks and mortar/glue and glitter business this year, but her business Ephemera Paducah has been magnet for art tourism with a national reach for years. There have been a lot of lessons learned over the years, including finding ways making sure that the artists understand their business plan will likely have to include revenue from outside the local customer market. Here is a link to their rules of the game and the benefits they offer.
In early articles describing the program I found a reference indicating that they were inspired by a similar, small scale program from the city of Rising Sun, Indiana. In the years since, many other programs supporting artists, especially in subsidizing housing and/or work space, have come, some come and gone, and some come and stay to this day.
Artspace is a non-profit real estate developer focused on affordable housing for artists. Here’s another article with a number of examples, though to be fair, some of the links are outdated. In Chattanooga, for example, the program originally called ArtsMove, targeted at helping artist relocate, has morphed into ArtsBuild, a more comprehensive set of supporting services.
I hope there are many, many more of these program I don’t know about – is there a place in your community for something like this?