We recently wrapped up a series of regional artist workspace meetings in 2019 attended by more than 150 artist workspace owners, artists, real estate developers, municipalities, funders, and planners. The discussions were guided by asking, what was working, what was not working and what additional resources were needed to support artist workspaces. The meetings were held in the Berkshires, Worcester County, Pioneer Valley, Cambridge, South Coast, and on the Cape.
Some observations and suggestions from the meetings:
Those who have taken on a real estate project outside of a nonprofit structure stated navigating the development process is daunting. Therefore, having access to expertise in financing, historic tax credits, capital campaigns, working with developers, contracts, insurance, etc. would give a distinct advantage to these community-based efforts. Any of these steps in the development process are significant hurdles for the uninitiated, and most community-based individuals who take this on are learning as they go.
It was suggested that more insight be provided, and best practices shared, about the adaptive reuse of schools as artist workspaces given the success of a number of these type of workspaces across the state.
Given the complexity of building code, some artist buildings requested assistance from code consultants who were well-versed in reuse as artist workspaces. Not all architects are created equal for this type of work and determining the right code consultant is important.
It was suggested that a network be created for those doing this work. Having a forum to vet challenges that arise in the creation or operation of spaces would be helpful. It was also recognized that a network can more easily mobilize in terms of advocacy efforts in times of crisis. It was mentioned that a network was what was missing in Lowell at the start of the artist space development.
Working to include underserved communities was at the forefront of the discussion in many meetings. There needs to be a focus specifically on diverse and lower income communities and make spaces welcome to them. Community organizing and outreach was viewed as essential to have full and equitable representation of all artist communities in Massachusetts.
The need for affordable housing was recognized so artists can live in the places where they create and present their work. The stability factor is critical to encourage participation in workspaces as well as in the cities and towns where they are located.
For those working on a specific project, it was expressed that having a real estate development expert who can offer coaching and provide hands-on training to a cohort group would add immense value.
In some communities it can take a long time to get buy-in for a project. Be prepared to encounter some members of the community who may not have heard of the “creative economy” and therefore individual meetings to educate and build trust is necessary. Initially it is time consuming but can pay off in the long-term by easing the process of regulatory approvals down the road.
It was requested that examples of artist space surveys be provided that can be adapted to any town or city across the state.
There needs to be an outward-facing marketing effort that promotes the benefits of artist work and live spaces—backed up with specific demographics and surveys—that outlines the need, and to get that information in front of developers.
It was brought up that Massachusetts could benefit from a creative space development entity (like a cultural community development corporation) that is able to respond quickly to acquisition and development challenges, and can be called when both opportunities and threats arise.
We would like to thank all who participated in this effort. This input coupled with an online survey gave us a much broader understanding of common themes and regional perspectives and will serve as a guide to how we move forward as a field to stabilize and support artist workspaces. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if there is anything you would like us to take into consideration.