Thursday, October 27, 2011

PS109: An ArtPlace for Artspace in New York City

El Barrio's PS 109 Artspace, Harlem, New York, NY. Image via ArtPlace America
In my final piece for my October ArtPlace series I'm talking about two subjects near and dear to my heart - affordable housing for artists and New York City, the place I call home. I wrote my masters' thesis on artist housing programs and how they impact both artists and communities. After spending a good chunk of the last year studying these programs and interviewing planners and participants in affordable housing for artists, I'm quite passionate about the subject. So I was very pleased to see that several of ArtPlace's funded projects - including ArtPlace's only Manhattan-based project - are affordable artist housing developments. But why New York City? Read on to find out the benefits - for artists and community - of affordable live/work space for artists, in NYC and everywhere.

Artspace + ArtPlace = artists' space
    The PS 109 Artspace, located in Harlem, is being implemented by Artspace (not to be confused with ArtPlace!), a non-profit artist housing developer with extensive experience creating affordable live-work spaces in such varied locations as Houston, Reno, and  Brainerd, Minnesota (a town that fans of the movie Fargo will recognize). Though projects vary based on local resources and needs (it's all about the local, you know!), generally each development works from the adaptive reuse model - taking unused available buildings and turning them into affordable live/work spaces for artists (meaning apartments with extra room for studio space). The projects are funded through tax credits, especially Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and Historic Preservation Tax Credits. (PS 109 is receiving both of these credits, which will generate nearly half the cost of the project's development.)
     So what do artists get- and what does the community get? When complete, PS 109 will consist of 90 affordable live/work spaces for New York City artists and their families. In addition, most Artspace projects include community space for outside programming and arts organizations; PS 109 is no exception, as it will provide 10,000 square feet of space for arts organizations. That's a big number in New York City, the land of the Murphy Bed. So PS 109 won't just help individual artists who live there, but outside artists and organizations in need of programming space. It will also provide the community with a local hub for for art activity. A key component for the success of artist housing developments is integration into the neighborhood through programming, so this inclusion bodes well for PS109.

Does the land of the $10 sandwich need arts-based economic development?
     One notable difference between PS 109 and the other ArtPlace grants I have written about is it's location in New York City. It's already a notable cultural hub - perhaps even the cultural capital of the US. And New York, at least in the last couple decades, is known for a robust economy (at least compared to other areas of the country). This stands in stark contrast to Detroit and South Dakota, my previous two ArtPlace subjects, as well as many of the other ArtPlace locations. If anything, New York has a reputation for taking advantage of art as an economic developer in the past few decades, from the organic gentrification of SoHo and Williamsburg to the 2005 public art installation The Gates. (In fact, New York was the home of the first affordable artists' housing development, Westbeth Artist Housing. It's still alive and kicking today, and still the world's largest, housing nearly five hundred people. I was lucky enough to visit and interview several residents for my thesis.)
     Despite this, New York's arts community can stand to benefit from PS109. If you've been to New York you know that it can be astonishingly expensive. A sandwich? Upwards of $10. A cocktail? $12+. Rent? You don't wanna know. And for artists to create art, especially visual artists, dedicated space is important. That space is pretty hard to come by at an affordable price these days. So while many artist housing programs with economic development goals might focus on attracting artists to an area, New York's goal is to retain them by helping them afford the city's notoriously high rents. By helping keep a creative core in New York City, and specifically Manhattan, the city is at less risk for becoming a cultural playland available only to those who can afford high rents and ticket prices ($25 to get in the door at MoMA!).
     Keeping artists in Manhattan can help bolster the careers of artists, too. Much of my thesis research focused on interviewing artists residing in affordable live work spaces, and the ones who lived at Westbeth were particularly appreciative. It helps keep the artists closer to the collectors, allowing them to host open houses or showings at a convenient location. Those collectors might be less likely to trek to a studio in an outer borough. It's also worth noting that Westbeth has closed their wait list, as it is over ten years long. So there is clearly a demand for this kind of property in Manhattan.
    Plus, an added bonus of PS109 is that construction on the building will create jobs. New York might not be Detroit, but there are still plenty of unemployed folks in need of work. A win-win!

Are there affordable live/work spaces for artists in your city or town? Maybe you even live in one! Tell me about it in the comments.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creative Placemaking, South Dakota Style: The Red Cloud Indian School

Storm clouds, Pine Ridge, SD
Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Image by Flickr user kerry1962
To some art advocates or culture vultures, the idea of creative placemaking in post-industrial areas might seem practically cliche. After all, we've seen it happen before. It happened organically in New York City's SoHo in the 1960s and 70s, when artists moved into old factory spaces and galleries followed; now it's one of the most expensive zip codes in the country. In Bilbao, Spain, a new Guggenheim Museum helped turn a former industrial backwater into an international tourist destination. But not every place has a gritty industrial past that can be flipped into artistic cache. How does economic development through the arts occur in rural areas? Read on to find out about the economic and cultural impact of ArtPlace grantee Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

A direct boost to the nation's second poorest county
     Last week I wrote about ArtPlace's creative placemaking in Detroit, which carries quite a reputation for weathering economic depression. But Shannon County, South Dakota, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is the second poorest county in the United States. Per capita income in Shannon County is $6,286. For some perspective, Detroit's per capita income is $14,118 - over double Shannon County's. (A little side note: in researching this post I learned that eight of the ten poorest counties in the US are located on Indian Reservations. What a sobering statistic. But that's a tale for an economic advocacy blogger to tackle.)
     Despite these startling statistics, Red Cloud Indian School has been a ray of light in the county hub of Pine Ridge for the past thirty years. The gift shop at the school's museum  provides a direct boost to the area's economy by purchasing traditional Lakota artwork and crafts from local artists and artisans for sale to museum visitors. In the years since the shop opened, it has paid up to $100,000 per year to local artists. That might not sound like much, but it's a lot of money in an area where per capita income is under $7K, and where population is sparse in general - about 13,500 people reside in Shannon County.

Taking Lakota craft from local to national
     In the past, the Red Cloud gift shop has depended on tourist traffic as a market for the local crafts. (Though this is not noted by ArtPlace, Wounded Knee Battlefield, home of the famously brutal 1890 massacre, is located in Shannon County.) Now, funding from ArtPlace will help Red Cloud widen their scope by selling Lakota craftwork online. A marketing campaign is also underway to help broaden awareness of the shop. This is particularly important, ArtPlace notes, because of the wide interest in American Indian craft that can be found in all corners of the nation. Many enthusiasts may not be able to make it to remote Shannon County, but now the crafts can come to them - and they can help support the economy of an area that desperately needs it. Of course, aside from the economic part, this project is a great way to keep traditional Lakota craft alive, in South Dakota and out! (I hope these beaded Keds go up for sale soon - I'd love to snag a pair.)
     The Pine Ridge project stands in stark contrast to the kind of economic development ArtPlace is funding in Detroit. I think that difference really speaks to the localized strategy ArtPlace is employing as a funder. Their approach is the opposite of one size fits all, and that's especially obvious when you compare rural Shannon County to urban Detroit. Hopefully both projects will find the same success in kick-starting local economies through the arts! So far, they are off to a great start.

What do you think about art's potential to kick-start rural economies? Is it a real solution, or pie-in-the-sky? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"A Place Where Things Are Made" - Art, Innovation, and Possibility in Detroit

detroit, mi
The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, MI. Image by Flickr user Heather Phillips

At this point it's practically cliche to note how hard the recession hit post-industrial America, and Detroit is the poster child for this particular type of economic decline. It's hard to look (and to look away) from some of the poetically beautiful images of decay that have been documented in this once bustling city. One of my favorite comedians, Eugene Mirman, has even joked that bears will be the ones to gentrify Detroit. But it's not all doom and gloom in the Motor City. New initiatives utilizing the arts to revitalize the city are gaining traction, especially thanks to funding from creative placemaking consortium ArtPlace (our theme for the month of October). ArtPlace believes so strongly in the potential of art to revitalize Detroit that the city was the only funded location that received three grants from the consortium, totalling over $1 million. Read on to find out the who, why and how of ArtPlace in Detroit.

"A major force of positive change"
     All three ArtPlace grants in Detroit are centered in one area, the Sugar Hill Arts District in the neighborhood of Midtown. One of ArtPlace's objectives is to fund projects that already enjoy local support and funding, rather than building from the ground up, and the Sugar Hill projects are no exception. One of the grantees, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), has been a presence, even an anchor, in the Arts District for the last five years.
     According to their ArtPlace page, "[MOCAD's] entire facility exists as much more than a mere building...we aim to empower the community by connecting them to the best of national and international art and by presenting a broad and eclectic selection of public programs." It goes on to say that this ArtPlace funding "will not only benefit the city but will contribute to its growing visibility as a place where art lives and is a major force of positive change."
     ArtSpace is also investing in projects in Sugar Hill that are still in the developing stages. Nonprofit planning and developing company Midtown Detroit earned a grant to purchase and renovate a 1915 Late Gothic Revival church located in the boundaries of the Arts District. Though it's not entirely clear how the space will be used (a feasibility study and more information are on the way), there is interest in creating a music venue--a perfect compliment to MOCAD and a terrific way to hearken back to the neighborhood's artistic roots as a jazz hotspot through the 1960s.

"This is about the intersection of art in the real world, people’s real lives. And I don’t think you can talk about renewal in Detroit without talking about Woodward Avenue [the main thoroughfare of the Arts District], and I don’t think you can talk about Woodward Avenue without talking about the arts." 
      Rocco Landesman, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

Fostering Innovation at the FAB Lab
     The above projects are exciting, and it's easy to envision how they will help revitalize this area, as cultural organizations have done everywhere from Milwaukee to Bilbao. But Detroit's most exciting ArtPlace grantee, in my opinion, is the Detroit FAB Lab.
     The FAB Lab, modeled after others that exist in the US and around the world (such Brooklyn's 3rd Ward), will be a community workspace for industrial and traditional arts as well as startup businesses. Artists will have access to technology such as 3-D printers and more traditional artistic amenities. Aside from a place to set up shop, businesses will have access to services any startup would appreciate- coaching, networking, mentoring, and the like. The Lab will also be closely affiliated with TechTown, an already existing entreprenurial community at Wayne State University. This affiliation will provide the FAB Lab with access to the University's resources, physical and otherwise. Bottom line? The Detroit FAB Lab will provide the area with "a cooperative working and social environment that will foster innovation" for both artists and entrepreneurs.

Art and Industry in the Motor City
     The Detroit FAB Lab's team is quick to point out the connection between their own mission and the history of Detroit as "a place where things are made." I think that's why I find this project most exciting - though it is based on the Fab Lab model that exists around the US and the world, this Fab Lab feels very specific to Detroit. The intersection of art and industry is especially key to its local relevance. In Detroit's heyday, art and industry (automobiles) were the city's two major exports. What art, you say? Motown, of course! Back in the day Motown Records was a major economic and cultural force in Detroit. The music may be a popular art form, but Motown's quality and staying power over the decades are inarguable. Hopefully ArtPlace's "all about the local" strategy will ensure that art can be a reinvigorating force in the Motor City in the 21st century, the same way it was for Detroit in the mid-20th century.

Have seen what the arts are doing in Detroit first-hand? Are you a Detroit native with thoughts about how ArtPlace will impact Midtown and the city at large? Tell me all about it in the comments!

PS: For images of hope from Detroit, check out the Can't Forget the Motor City photography project, which was created in response to many outside photographers documenting decline ruin in Detroit. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

ArtPlace: Creative Solutions through Creative Placemaking

ArtPlace grantee Swarm Street by Acconci Studio. Indianapolis, IN. Image via ArtPlace
On September 14, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, Mellon, & other foundations, in conjunction with a host of government agencies and corporate partners, announced a groundbreaking partnership with the aim of "accelerating creative placemaking across the US": ArtPlace. Throughout the month of October I’ll be writing about different projects funded through this new consortium and their potential to revitalize and transform communities through the arts. But first, the basics--what's the deal with ArtPlace? Read on to find out.

All about the local
     According to the consortium's “About Us” page,  ArtPlace believes that art and culture can revitalize cities and towns by "increasing the desire and the economic opportunity for people to thrive in place.” But this isn't a one size fits all, cookie cutter approach. There will be no generic starchitecture anchor institutions or developer-funded imitations of 1970's SoHo--ArtPlace is “all about the local.” According to the New York Times, ArtPlace seeks to fund projects that already have preliminary infrastructure in place as well as strong support in their respective communities. An ArtSpace grant (on average around $350K) is then intended to help build an even more robust program and, hopefully, attract more public and private dollars.
     The annoncement of ArtPlace made waves in the arts community because of the unprecedented collaboration--ten private foundations (Ford, Mellon, Bloomberg, Rockefeller, and other heavy hitters in the philanthropic sphere) and six banks (Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, MetLife, and Morgan Stanley) will provide funding and loans. In addition, eight federal partners, from the NEA to Housing and Human Development to Education will provide oversight and leadership support (but no funds). “We felt if we worked together and coordinated our efforts, it would have a multiplier effect,” NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, who spearheaded ArtPlace, told the New York Times.
"In this time of need, the arts can give"
     As I learned in one of my favorite graduate school classes, Public Policy and the Arts, America's idiosyncratic arts funding system is built on the public/private partnership. ArtsPlace fits squarely in that tradition of matching grants, CIGs, and the like. But it's more unusual for foundations to join forces in this way. Why start now? “It seemed too important not to do,” stated Don Michael Randel, president of the Mellon Foundation. Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas wrote on the NEA's blog that "The arts can heal, and the arts can build. In this time of need, the arts can give.” Ubinas also told the New York Times that “art is a precondition to success in a world increasingly driven by creativity and innovation.” (Sound familiar? See: STEAM.)
     So, who got the money ($11.5 million in total)? Projects span the breadth of the country, both culturally and geographically- from Massachusetts to Hawaii, from New York City to South Dakota. Projects vary contentwise, too--from Los Angeles’ Watts House Project, an artist-based neighborhood revitalization effort, to a public sculpture park in Wilson, NC, comprised of the whimsical whirligigs of local outsider artist Vollis Simpson.

Maximizing bang for buck - and speed
    Last week, I wrote about the enormous potential of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART! and Mathematics education) to help America compete in the global economy. But what about the short term? STEAM has more to do with our long-term potential--making sure today and tomorrow's students are prepared to solve problems ten, twenty, and fifty years down the line. Many places can’t wait that long. (Just ask Detroit, home of several ArtPlace grants. More on that next week.)
     ArtPlace's economic development strategies will help provide localized economic development in less time. By investing in creative economy projects, art festivals, and institutions (among many other projects) ArtPlace will help kick-start local economies across the country through the arts. Combining resources across sectors and funding projects that area already underway--not starting from scratch--will help get things going more quickly too.

You can check out all the funded projects--and learn how to apply for the next round of ArtPlace grants, at ArtPlace's website. What do you think of ArtPlace? Any grantees in your community or particular projects you are excited about? Stay tuned for a whole month of ArtPlace at Art Advocado!