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VOL. 125 | NO. 219 | Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Survey Will Help Map Artists’ Needs

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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A project that could put the “finishing touch” on development in the South Main Historic Arts District takes a step forward this week.

ArtSpace, a national nonprofit that works to create affordable live/work space for artists in cities across the country, partnered earlier this year with the city of Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundations to develop an artists’ residence along South Main.

This week, the three organizations and other local partners, including ArtsMemphis, are launching a survey that aims to gather input from the community of artists the project will benefit. A survey launch party, called the Artists Only Happy Hour, runs Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Playhouse on the Square.

“The survey, for us, is going to fulfill a couple of objectives,” said Kerry Hayes, special assistant to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. “It gives ArtSpace the data they need to figure out the scope of the project. In the mayor’s office, it gives us a chance to see what artists and members of the creative class need to stay here – what we can do from a policy level to keep them from moving to Atlanta or Austin or another area.”

The online survey, which will be available until Dec. 22 at www.artspacememphis.org, is open to artists of all disciplines, including fine artists, musicians, writers, performing artists and others involved in the arts community.

“It’s open to anyone who makes any part of their living from an artistic pursuit – anybody who considers themselves part of the creative class,” Hayes said. “They can be any age, have kids, have other jobs. These are the people we want to hear from.”

Gretchen McLennon, Hyde Family Foundations program officer, said the ArtSpace project got off the ground following a visit to the city by National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman early this year. Landesman asked to see a neighborhood where arts and economic development were occurring hand in hand.

“We took him to the South Main District, and he liked what he was seeing and loved the story, the history of the area,” McLennon said.

When Landesman and others learned the Memphis College of Art was in the midst of moving its graduate school to the district, that put the icing on the cake.

“To have 120 creative types going to school in the area, they thought now more than ever was time for the city to capitalize on their presence to provide affordable housing,” McLennon said. “We feel like this is kind of a finishing touch for South Main.”

McLennon anticipates a two- to four-year wait before the ArtSpace facility opens to artist residents. But, she said, the partners involved in the project are committed to making it happen as quickly as possible.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she said.

ArtSpace will finance the project primarily through state tax credits and redevelopment incentives, she added.

“There’s no way we could do this without them helping us figure out the financing piece,” McLennon said. “A building that might cost $20 million to develop will end up costing the city $3 (million) to $4 million through private and corporate funds.”

The survey will help determine the precise needs of the local artist community, and its findings will go into the development of the ArtSpace facility.

The building could contain as many as 40 to 60 residential units, along with several thousand square feet of ground-floor commercial space. The artists’ survey will help determine the use of that space, whether it be performance space for musicians, gallery space or office space for arts-related nonprofits.

Todd Richardson, an assistant professor of art history at the University of Memphis and co-director of Crosstown Arts, said one of the greatest needs he sees is a central point for area artists to gather.

“There are so many great things going on in Memphis, but they tend to be silos,” he said. “Something’s going on over here and something’s going on over there, but people don’t necessarily know about them or know that there are others doing similar things.”

Richardson pointed to a need for greater access to art-making resources – things like wood and metal workshops, digital media labs, recording studio equipment.

And that’s the type of information the survey is designed to sniff out, Hayes said.

“We want to get a sense of the size and breadth and depth of the arts community,” he said. “What are the square footage needs of artists, how much would they pay in monthly rent, what special amenities are important to them. Darkrooms? Natural light?

“We want to know what things creative people need to work more productively.”

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