Creating to Live Well
Creating to Live Well
Artspace Takes Root in Connecticut Cities
by Rebecca McManus
The “livability” of a community in large part depends on the achievement of social, economic, environmental and cultural attributes required to create both good quality of life and a strong sense of local identity for its inhabitants.
Arts and culture are not optional for healthy sustainable communities, but rather provide products and services with economic and social value. Recognizing and acting on this belief has helped many communities revitalize downtown areas and inner city neighborhoods, reanimate historic properties, develop arts districts and preserve affordable living with creative space for artists of all kinds.
Minnesota-based Artspace is now America’s leading nonprofit real estate developer for the arts. The corporate mission is to create, own and operate affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses. It provides affordable housing—live/work housing, artist studios, art centers and workspace for artists, performing arts centers and cultural districts. The primary goal is to help artists live in communities that are safer, attractive and more livable.
The majority of Artspace housing units are considered affordable housing for the so-called “starving artist”. Ed Cleveland, a Reiki Master, Holographic Sound Healer and Medicinal Aromatherapist who currently resides at the Hartford Artspace location, but also continues his business practice in Manchester, explains, “It follows a concept that people can live sustainably and have creative workspace. It is a rare opportunity for any artist who is seeking artistic pursuit to have a space designed to help conquer their dreams.”
Artspace invites emerging and mid-career artists from all fields to create, foster and preserve affordable living in major and emerging urban areas. There are currently 40 Artspace projects across the country, with more planned and in the funding stages. Artspace uses public funding sources, including those available for the creation of affordable housing, economic development, historic preservation and cultural facility development. Private sector funding may also include conventional bank financing as well as individual and community philanthropic support.
This concept in practice has transformed previously desolate city space into economic hubs in many areas across the country, including some right here in Connecticut.
There are currently five Artspace communities in our state: Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwich and Windham. While they all share the Artspace name, they are not owned or operated by the same entity. Hartford, Norwich and Windham are operated by the same group while Bridgeport and New Haven are managed by others.
The Hartford Artspace location is a residential development in downtown Hartford offering 46 apartments, with open space or gallery on the ground floor where residents can display their artwork or crafts. This approach is often referred to as live/work housing.
A live/work project is a residential building in which each dwelling has extra space that an artist can use as a studio within their apartment. These art space units have high ceilings, wide doorways and large windows designed to accommodate a variety of creative processes. The Hartford building also includes common areas such as gallery space and meeting rooms that encourage tenant engagement and community involvement.
“Livability accommodates like-minded artists invested in helping and supporting each other in their craft,” Cleveland says. “We congregate and share artwork or music and everyone is supportive. It is a truly living community.”
Residents represent all ethnicities and art forms. When there are art exhibits, the people from the community are welcome, and these are donation-only exhibits which attract people from all economic backgrounds. Cleveland notes that these events are always crowded and bring in donations needed to continue funding the Artspace. It is also a way for residents to gain attention for their work; one artist was noticed during his recent exhibit and now creates original artwork for a popular local restaurant.
The space may also be used by other local nonprofits for their events. For example, Mental Health Connecticut will be occupying a gallery space during the month of October.
New Haven Artspace
New Haven Artspace community is owned and operated by a distinct non-profit organization. Founded by a group of New Haven based visual and performing artists with the intent to nurture and preserve the arts in the area, it is a contemporary art gallery and nonprofit organization that has now helped more than 3,000 artists develop their careers. It uses the entire city of New Haven for art space, bringing new life to factory buildings, former manufacturing plants, libraries and old malls.
The use of these spaces for the art also addresses social issues relevant to New Haven’s urban community. Over the last three decades, New Haven Artspace has led an accelerated naturalized movement of community transformation that relies on charitable contributions from individuals, private foundations and corporations.
An example of this community leadership is an upcoming event presented by New Haven Artspace. On Saturday, September 8 from 10am to 5pm, a free, full-day interdisciplinary summit, “Paying Homage: Soil and Site,” will take place to promote dialogue on the interplay of environmentalism, social justice, the arts and community identity. It will respond to the companion exhibition Ball Snake Ball and the artwork created by participants in Artspace’s 18th annual Summer Apprenticeship Program, a partnership with Vital New Voices. It will assemble scholars, activists, educators and civic leaders working on environmental justice issues to explore the politics of our basic environmental needs and the consequences of historical environmental racism on our local communities, as well as the role of the land itself as a lasting monument to these injustices and others. The day’s agenda will place the arts at the center of these conversations, investigating how creative engagement with the land through the artistic medium of ceramics can offer a new understanding of the links between land and justice. Cosponsored by the Yale University Art Gallery, the summit will take place in the Yale University Gallery’s lecture hall at 1111 Chapel Street in New Haven. The event is free but registration is required at tinyurl.com/NHArtspaceSummit.
Bridgeport Artspace at Read’s
At the time of its opening in 1925, Read’s was hailed as the finest department store on the East Coast between New York and Boston, and it was viewed as the badge of Bridgeport’s sophistication and prosperity. By the 1970s, however, downtown Bridgeport had fallen on hard times and Read’s finally closed its doors in 1981. The once celebrated building then became a picture of urban decay, abandoned and derelict.
In the late 1990s, the City of Bridgeport engaged Artspace to transform the urban landmark into an affordable artist live/work project. In collaboration with Mission First Capital Advisors of Washington, D.C., Artspace created 61 spacious live/work units on the upper floors and arts-friendly commercial space on the ground floor. The $14.1 million conversion restored the 121,000-square-foot building to its original appearance. Broad interior corridors now serve as informal galleries on each of the upper five floors, and a public gallery on the ground floor houses more formal exhibitions. The first tenants in the space were true urban pioneers: until they moved in, downtown Bridgeport’s residential population was zero.
Painters, musicians, sculptors, print makers, actors, film producers, graphic designers, photographers, fashion designers, writers, as well as jewelry, mixed media and fiber artists, have now helped turn an urban landmark into a thriving creative community in the city.
Rebecca McManus is a freelance writer and project manager with Natural Awakenings in CT. Connect at [email protected].
Connecticut Artspace Locations
1042 Broad St, Bridgeport • Artspace.org
555 Asylum Ave, Hartford • ArtspaceHartford.com
Artspace New Haven
50 Orange St, New Haven • ArtspaceNewHaven.org
35 Chestnut St, Norwich
Artspace at Windham Mills
480 Main St, Willimantic • ArtspaceWindham.com