PLAN 75: Article
Creating Affordable Space For Artists

An SA+P Initiative in Urban Planning and Development

The Department of Urban Studies and Planning, in partnership with Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), has launched a new program of research, awards and learning to foster the creation of accessible artist space in communities across the US.

Funded through a collaboration between the MetLife Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the Space for Change program seeks to identify projects that provide affordable space for artists and that contribute to community revitalization and sustainability through artist programming and active engagement. The program is rooted in the recognition that artistic practice often requires unusual working and living space and that access to affordable space remains a key challenge for many artists. This remains true even while research points to such positive impacts of artist space development projects as increased employment opportunities and improved youth development programs for residents.

Last fall, to promote and reward best practices in the development of artist spaces that yield benefits for both artists and their communities, the Space for Change program initiated the MetLife Innovative Space Awards, a competitive national funding program with unrestricted awards ranging from $10K to $50K, accompanied by value-added support such as technical assistance and other learning activities. Applicant entries for the contest were collected in the Artists Space Database, a national resource that aims to encourage the replication of model projects and policies.

Selected from a pool of 92 applicants from 63 cities in 29 states, the $50K grand prize winner was the Curley School in Ajo AZ, developed by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance. In 2005, the alliance purchased the vacant school campus in the former copper-mining town – its main building, an architectural gem in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, is on the National Register of Historic Places – and completed its rehabilitation in June 2007.

The school’s eight buildings now offer 30 affordable live/work rental units for artists, artisans and creative home businesses as an anchor for the town’s revitalization strategy. Spread out over a seven-acre campus, the project includes an auditorium with an indoor/outdoor stage, a retail gallery, a business incubator, a computer lab, shared workspace, classrooms, meeting rooms and offices. Programs include business planning for artists and access to capital though matched savings accounts and micro loans.

Five $10K honorable mentions were also awarded in the contest – to the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington KY for its writers’ haven and low-cost family education center; City of Asylum/Pittsburgh PA for its artists-in-exile program; Open Book 2.0 in Minneapolis for its collaboration among local non-profits to form a literary arts center; Soo Theatre and STARS in Sault Ste. Marie MI for bringing arts education and programming to the region; and Watts House Project in Los Angeles for its collaborative artwork meshing artists’ skills with local needs to improve the neighborhood.

Susan Silberberg-Robinson, Lecturer in Urban Design and Planning, serves as the Associate Director of the Innovative Space Awards and is now working with graduate research assistants to identify key characteristics of the award applicant pool and develop a research program around affordable artists space and positive community impacts.

Beginning this spring, a second cycle of the awards program will begin and the Ford Foundation Space for Change Predevelopment Grants program will entertain proposals for grants to projects in the early stages of planning that demonstrate a commitment to creating affordable artist spaces. For more information about the grants, contact Silberberg-Robinson at scsilber@mit.edu.