Survey: Many artists interested in available shared space

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published October 2, 2020

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MOUNT CLEMENS — A seven-week survey shows there is interest in a project that will make space available for artists to live and work in the city.

Artspace, a nonprofit developer specializing in creating, owning and operating affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses, including live-work apartments for artists and their families, working artist studios, arts centers, commercial spaces for arts-friendly businesses, and other projects, recently released the results of the Arts Market Study that was conducted earlier in 2020.

The survey, paid for with funds from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and DTE Energy Foundation, was meant to determine what size development and types of creative spaces and amenities make sense for Mount Clemens.

Phil Gilchrist, co-chair of the Artspace Steering Committee with Barb Dempsey, said he thought the results were “pretty positive, in terms of the future of this project.”

A total of 555 people responded to the survey, of which 81% indicated an interest in having at least one type of creative space in the city of Mount Clemens.

Survey respondents were asked about their interest in renting different spaces, if made available affordably in downtown Mount Clemens: live/work housing designed for artists, creative individuals and their families; private studios or creative workspaces; shared creative space, which could include specialized equipment that could be accessed on a short-term or occasional basis through a membership or rental agreement; and shared performing arts spaces.

The Arts Market Study received responses from current and former Mount Clemens residents, as well as those who had never lived in the city. When asked what type of creative space they would be most interested in seeing in an Artspace development, 284 said they were looking for shared creative space, 161 wanted private studio space, 136 were interested in live/work space, 113 interested were in shared performing arts space and 105 did not express an interest in any of those spaces.

Gilchrist said he was surprised at the high interest in a shared creative space, such as a ceramics lab or photography studio.

“Personally, I didn’t think that would be something that would generate as much interest as it did,” he said. “(It) opens up quite a bit of possibility.”

Gilchrist said a final design will hopefully include some of all of those types of spaces. A shared creative space, however, would need to have an operator; Artspace does not operate any of the facilities.

“They’ll build it out, but they would need a private company to come in or a business or another nonprofit to come in and operate,” he said.

There are several sites under consideration for the space, whether it be renovating a current facility or new construction.

Some of the possibilities for an Artspace location include the vacant Macomb County property on Main Street, a former hospital on North Avenue and the Victory Inn property at northbound Gratiot Avenue and North River Road.

“The Steering Committee is happy with the responses that we got,” Gilchrist said.

The next step in the process is pre-development, which he said would still require quite a bit of work. The committee will take the information from the survey and use it to determine what space and how large of a project is feasible for the area, as well as how it will be funded.

Gilchrist acknowledged there are some gaps in the data, such as the fact that more women responded than men and 87% of the responses came from those who identify racially as white, but “we’re going to really try to elevate the voices that weren’t included in the survey,” he said.

“There’s still quite a bit of legwork to do in terms of outreach and inclusion, and we recognize that. Working to involve those folks who can provide those additional perspectives is going to be incredibly important.”

It will take about $750,000 to get a shovel in the ground, Gilchrist explained, but the initial amount needed to get work started is around $150,000. He said they are looking to fund the project through grants and from private sources.

“We’re already actively looking for the funds,” he said. “We don’t want to take too much time.”

Artspace is a nonprofit developer, but it does rely on rent to pay the facility’s bills. The organization works to develop a space that, when completed, has very little debt, so rent can simply cover ongoing expenses and the project can be sustainable.

The Artspace finance model combines public and private resources to provide affordable housing and space for artists, primarily through the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Because 65% of the survey respondents self-identified as being at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), as determined by HUD, and 49% self-identified as being at or below 60% of AMI, Artspace has determined that a development for residents earning up to 60% of AMI could be appropriate for Mount Clemens.

Such a development, with 21-34 live/work units, could be sustained by the market in the area, according to the survey results. Artspace also reports that the mixed-use concept can also include private studios in a variety of sizes and flexible commercial space to be used for shared creative spaces.

To check out the entire results of the market survey and learn more about the Artspace development, visit www.theartcenter.org/artspace-info.

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