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National Skyline: Reviving communities through arts-centric development

Artists work on a treescape in Trinidad

Musicians in Trinidad

Detour Flobots performing in Trinidad

Mural for The Alley Project

Erik Howard of The Alley Project

This story originally appeared in our sister publication The Line.

Erik Howard was in a panic. The founder of The Alley Project (TAP), a community center and gallery for youth creating street art and garage murals in Southwest Detroit, was working on an ArtPlace America Grant for Creative Placemaking. But his application had gone all wrong.

"We found out late in the process that somehow we'd applied in the wrong category," explains Howard. "We were improperly prepared for what we had to submit."
Through another Detroit applicant, Allied Media Project, Howard learned about Artspace. He emailed Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of Consulting and Strategic Partnerships at the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, asking for help.

"I wrote that this grant was crucial to the future of our organization and didn’t know what to do," he says.

After reading his email, Holmes immediately gave Howard a call.

"She asked me a series of questions and said, 'I have good news and bad news,'" recalls Howard. "The good news was we’d done all the work. The bad news was we needed to put it in a new format."

Holmes gave Howard contact information for several Detroit organizations that could help. She also provided insight on TAP’s performance estimates, market research and financial analysis, and helped Howard position his language for the grant.

"She was a godsend," says Howard.
The application was a success. TAP, which is part of the Detroit-based youth-development group Young Nation, received the 2015 ArtPlace creative placemaking grant. Their goal is to renovate a 2,000-square-foot building and design a plaza and green space at the intersection of Elsmere and Avis streets. Located next to TAP, the project provides a year-round space for community members, visitors and artists to make art; fosters relationships between youth, elders and other community members; and grows entrepreneurial activity -- and thus socio-economic capital -- in the neighborhood.
"Erik is a talented artist and a dynamic leader," says Holmes. "He’s been working with neighborhood youth to create an outdoor gallery full of amazing murals on garage doors and in the alleyways. We were thrilled to help him refine his ArtPlace grant and build his confidence during the application process."

Neither Howard’s call for help nor Holmes’ quick response were unusual. Through more than 30 years and 40 projects, Artspace has worked to create spaces for artists, whether that means renovating dilapidated under-utilized historic structures or building new. In doing so, the organization has transformed neighborhoods across the United States.
Cohorts and capacity building
Shortly after Howard submitted his ArtPlace application, the Kresge Foundation approached Artspace about working with several Detroit nonprofits — as Holmes had done with Howard and TAP — on capacity building. The organization recognized an opportunity to take the next step in its evolution.
"Rather than focusing on one arts real estate project at a time in a city, we landed on a concept with Kresge to help build the technical skills and socio-economic capacity of a cohort of Detroit nonprofits focused on arts or social justice, neighborhood revitalization and community development," says Holmes. "We started with their real estate challenges, but soon discovered they needed help in other areas, including fundraising and board development.”

The program -- dubbed Artspace Immersion: Detroit -- includes 11 organizations: the Arab American National Museum, 555 Arts, Allied Media Project, Artlab J, Detroit Reuse Project, Inc., Bailey Park Projects, Jefferson East, Inc., Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, Spread Art, The Carr Center and The Alley Project. In addition to workshops in Detroit, Artspace has flown the cohort to Minneapolis to tour the organization's facilities there and to discuss topics such as concept refinement, fundraising, development and asset management.
"The immersion project, thus far, has been transformative to the members of the cohort,” says Amber Elliot, a Wayne State University Detroit Revitalization Fellow, assistant program officer at LISC in Detroit, and Artspace’s local consultant for the Detroit cohort. "Artspace is a national nonprofit with a huge portfolio of experience helping our organizations think about how to better utilize their space, how to fundraise, market and position their story, and how to move their organization forward. The expertise they provide is hands-on and in-depth."
"At the same time, these organizations are learning to come out of their shells and collaborate with each other, so the cohort project has a holistic approach," she continues. "Moreover, the project isn’t solely about art and recognition for artists. Without arts organizations, you don’t have a community. So there’s a community-development component to the project. The cohort is about working together to transform communities around art, environment, health and social justice."
A natural evolution

In addition to its role as an arts real estate developer, owner and manager, Artspace offers consulting for communities, organizations and individuals hoping to develop affordable space for artists, performing arts centers and cultural districts. Several years ago, Artspace tested the cohort approach by bringing together a diverse group of community leaders to cross-pollinate ideas.

"We’re using that same framework for the Detroit immersion project," explains Anna Growcott, director of Consulting and Strategic Partnerships.
Working with a cohort of organizations isn’t "that far afield from what we do in consulting already," says Holmes. "It’s a more efficient way of working with multiple organizations with similar needs. And it seems to be missing in many cities, particularly among arts nonprofits that don’t realize they need real estate skills until it comes into play at some point. So working on this larger, more geographic scale is a natural evolution for Artspace."
Artspace’s work in Minneapolis, St. Paul and throughout rural Minnesota built the foundation on which this work could occur. From Artspace’s first project in 1990 -- the Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative in the Lowertown neighborhood of St. Paul -- the organization’s portfolio has expanded to include more than 30 artist affordable live/work housing projects, as well as eight non-residential initiatives in the Twin Cities (including the development of the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art in Minneapolis).
Artspace has also developed projects in Duluth and Brainerd, as well as in Fergus Falls and on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

"We also have a high concentration of work around Chicago and in the states of New York, Colorado and Washington, and in the D.C. area," says Holmes. In Seattle, where Artspace has created three projects, affordable artist live/work housing is becoming the new normal. "Our work happened organically as a geographic approach in Seattle."
The geographical re-scaling of the organization’s work may reach its apex in Colorado, where Artspace has not only created its first urban artist live/work project in Loveland (with projects in Lakewood and Denver to follow), but is engaged in a public/private partnership that will transform nine rural communities over the next eight years through the development of mixed-use and artist housing projects.
Space to Create Colorado (a project of Colorado Creative Industries, which in turn is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade), will focus on arts-related development and housing in rural and mountain towns. It’s the first state-driven initiative in the United States aimed at affordable housing for artists. Artspace is the lead consultant.

"All of our work in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and throughout rural Minnesota, was good training for our upcoming work in Colorado," insists Holmes.
Moving a perfected process forward
Space to Create Colorado hopes to position the state as a national model for artist-led transformation in rural communities. In addition to Artspace and Colorado Creative Industries, the initial partners -- led by the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade -- include the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, History Colorado and the Boettcher Foundation.
The demonstration project will reinforce and bring new life to a  state-designated creative district in Trinidad, Colorado.

"We have secured an entire city block of historic buildings for this first rural Colorado project," says Tim Schultz, president of the Boettcher Foundation. "On either end of the block facing Main Street are old three-story hotel and apartment buildings that would be converted into live/work spaces for artists. In the middle of the block is an old auto dealership with a barrel-shaped roof, which we’re developing into a community center that could host festivals, dinners and theater performances, and be a home for the Corizon de Trinidad Creative District.”
"Trinidad is fired up," he continues. "There’s a huge desire to turn the community around using the arts and creativity as a socio-economic engine. Artspace has embraced all of our needs, wants and concepts. I can’t speak highly enough about their commitment and willingness to take a process they’ve perfected -- building by building -- and enter into a partnership with the state and our foundation to move their approach in a new direction."

The public/private partnership also provides all of the entities with the confidence to take on -- and realize -- the ambitious, untried, statewide program.

"Because of the work Artspace has done with so many cities and towns, they can go into and learn from a community while the community learns about them," explains Schultz. "Through their time-tested processes, meetings, workshops and feasibility studies, Artspace gives communities and their partners knowledge, confidence and empowerment. To their credit, the Artspace folks are modifying their processes so we can do the work in a rural community. They’re pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone to grow and evolve.”

Camille LeFevre is the editor of The LineThis story is part of a national series — supported by Artspace — about the arts, housing and community transformation. You can read the first story in the series here, the second article here and the third article here.
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