Earlier this year, the city of Memphis received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to create affordable, sustainable living and working space for artists. Local artists were surveyed on their needs and wants for live-work space, but the question of where that space would be remained a mystery until last week.
Having finally settled on a warehouse on South Main at St. Paul, national nonprofit Artspace, which has spearheaded similar live-work space projects across the country, is preparing to convert the building into affordable housing and studios for artists.
"It's been on people's minds: We need to do more to help the creative class find reasons to stay in Memphis," said Kerry Hayes, special assistant to Memphis mayor A C Wharton.
— Hannah Sayle
Flyer: How did you decide on the South Main site?
Wendy Holmes: We got feedback from artists and city leaders about where the priority neighborhoods might be. There were four or five neighborhoods we looked at and eight or 10 vacant parcels. Mostly we looked at historic buildings because there are quite a few that are either vacant or underutilized.
What will the finished building look like?
At the site at St. Paul, we'll do new construction and historic preservation. The building is 60,000 square feet, but I would imagine, with the new construction, it's going to be at least 100,000 square feet. We know that it will have 50 to 70 units of live-work space for artists and their families. There will be efficiency units, as well as two and three bedroom units. A lot of the artists who responded to the survey have families. Sometimes people forget artists have families.
It will be mainly housing and studio space?
There will be some nonresidential spaces in the building. Non-profit arts organizations might have office space or rehearsal space there. We've been in a preliminary conversation with some filmmakers interested in having studio or office space. There will be a community space for performances and exhibitions programmed by artists who live in the building.
How does the application process for artists work?
We're using a federal subsidy that requires income qualification, so the artists have to be at or below 60 percent of area median income. They need to prove they have a commitment to an art form or have a body of work, whether it's a portfolio or a bunch of CDs or a performance. They're not judged on quality. They're judged on commitment. And it doesn't matter what percentage of their income they make from art. There are very few artists who make 100 percent of their income from art.
Who vets the applicants?
We put together a group of local artists representing different disciplines. Those artists will not be living in the building, so they'll have some objectivity. They, along with Artspace and a local property management group, will interview each prospective tenant. Local peer artists will be able to sniff out who is real and who's not really quickly. Artists could potentially start moving in around 2014.
What is one of your favorite Artspace success stories?
Artists who work in one medium collaborate with artists who work in other mediums. We did an economic impact study last year, and we found that artists in these buildings made an increasing amount of income from their art as a result of being next to other artists.