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Project may give boost to artists

Discussions focus on idea of providing space to live, work


The idea of the starving artist, shivering in the early dawn, huddled over an easel, paint-stained hands grasping the color palette, the only illumination the hint of the rising sun as the landlord pounds on the bolted door demanding the rent and disturbing the quiet of the early morning, is a romantic notion fostered by Puccini and many subsequent dramatists. However, the romance of being a starving artist is lost on the real artist, who often struggles financially in the pursuit of creative expression.

Elizabeth artists may find some relief if Artspace developers and the community of Elizabeth choose to develop a center with space for artists to create, enjoy affordable housing and sell and display their work.

At a community meeting on April 21 at Frontier High School, Artspace representatives outlined the necessary steps for Elizabeth’s approval as a possible candidate for a development project. The steps include a feasibility study, followed by market analysis to explore the depth of the market, affordability and the amount of space needed, the procurement of the funding and finally construction.

Artspace is a national nonprofit developer whose self-described mission is: “To create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organizations.”

Artspace is also a lead partner in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Space to Create Colorado initiative to provide affordable housing for artists. Partners in this program consist of public and private partners including the Colorado Office of Economic Development’s Colorado Creative Industries, the Department of Local Affairs, History Colorado, Boettcher Foundation and Artspace. The Artspace role is to develop affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organization in nine rural Colorado communities.

Elizabeth is under consideration as one of those communities as a possible site for an Artspace development. Artspace representatives were in Elizabeth recently to begin the preliminary feasibility phase of the project to assess the viability of an Artspace development in the city.

Meeting held with group

As part of this initial stage, Artspace representatives Roy Close and Wendy Holmes met last week with the Core group to discuss the possibilities. The Core group includes the Public Art Committee/town staff: Dick Eason, town administrator; Rachel Hodgson, community development director; Dan Kelly; Aivars Tobiss; Rachel White; and Jennifer Skalecke.

Beyond the Core group, Artspace held several focus groups comprised of artist/artist organization focus group; finance/financial organizations focus group; business sector focus group; and civic leadership focus group.

They also assessed construction space and/or suitable buildings by touring the possible sites for construction, including a vacant lot at 55 Main St. owned by the city.

After their visit, Hodson said, “They liked the community and the local art scene.”

If Elizabeth passes the feasibility study phase, Artspace will then conduct a market analysis to determine if the artist community is large enough to sustain such a project. This survey will identify the type and number of artists in Elizabeth and the artistic disciplines that would take advantage of this opportunity.

Identifying the number of artists and the disciplines is an integral part of determining the number of housing units and the configuration of the structure, which is unique to each community’s needs and desires.

Artists can be broadly defined from painter to a creative hat maker or leather worker. According to the Artspace representatives, the definition depends upon the population and its characterization of artists. Identifying the number of artists and their needs determines the number of housing units and the composition of the structure. For instance, if the survey identifies 105 artists, the project would probably have 35 living units and the vision for the development depends upon the community and whether they want residential space, a gallery, studios or commercial space.

As Hodson pointed out, “We are now waiting for the results of the feasibility study and depending on the results will move on to the market analysis portion of the project to find out how many spaces the town can support and in what capacity.”

How Artspace works

Artspace co-owns or owns the developed property which can be either new construction or the use and restoration of buildings already in place. In that role, Artspace ensures the property is well-maintained and any monies received beyond operating expenses are kept for preventive maintenance and other improvements.

If the previous studies are positive, the next and crucial step is to obtain the necessary funding. Each ArtSpace project is completely paid for before construction starts, and the developers never have to go back to the community for more money.

ArtSpace borrows very little of the money but uses grants, donations and public funding that is already in place. Funding already in place would be government Community Development Block Grants used for public service site acquisition and housing rehabilitation; funds from Colorado Department of Local Affairs, a government agency that provides grants, loans and rental subsidies to for-profit and nonprofit developers to create or rehabilitate housing; or even History Colorado if the site is a historical building that will be renovated.

From start to finish the project could take three to five years to complete.


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