Hopkins looks to enhance artsy downtown, considers work/live community for budding artists

Hopkins city staff and local artists vie for Artspace to come to town at Aug. 9 feasibility meeting

The City of Hopkins has teamed up with the Hopkins Center for the Arts and Stages Theater to consider welcoming Artspace, a nonprofit real estate developer for the arts, to the city.

Artspace is headquartered in Minneapolis, but has developed arts facilities—such as live/work housing, artist studios, arts centers and commercial spaces for arts-friendly businesses—across the nation since 1979. By creating and preserving these affordable spaces for artists, the organization aims to revitalize and transform communities.

The feasibility of such a project in Hopkins was assessed at a Aug. 9 community meeting and presentation.

An artist at work in an Artspace live/work apartment unit. Large windows are incorporated into the design to maximize natural light. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)
An artist at work in an Artspace live/work apartment unit. Large windows are incorporated into the design to maximize natural light. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)

In Hopkins, much initial interest lies in a mixed-use building that would incorporate both a live/work community to house budding artists, typically on upper floors, and a non-residential space below.

By definition, live/work housing is a residential building in which each unit has an extra 100 to 150 square feet that an artist can use as a studio. Designed to foster and accommodate creativity, these loft-style apartments typically have few walls, high ceilings, durable surfaces, galley kitchens, wide doorways and large windows to maximize natural light.

Non-residential space could be anything from a community gathering room for arts showcases to locally owned and operated commercial space to performance and rehearsal space to membership-based workspace.

According to Anna Growcott, Artspace’s director of consulting and strategic partnerships, these common spaces become “ground zero for arts events, where the public can connect with the arts community.”
Artspace consultants, who toured the Hopkins area, said a potential site would be transit-oriented and near Mainstreet’s walkable downtown.

“We are getting an idea of where [community members] and city staff think this project might make sense,” said Wendy Holmes, Artspace’s senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships.

According to Growcott, Artspace is an “equal opportunity site selector.” About half of Artspace projects adapt and reuse a historic building; the other half are newly constructed. Some buildings, with new construction built onto an older building, are a mix of both.

“Every place we looked at was in walking distance from [Hopkins Center for the Arts],” Growcott said. “We look for places that hold the heart of the community and buildings the community wants saved.”

A rendering of the Artspace project in Hastings. The new building, dubbed River Lofts, welcomed its first residents this month. The project includes 37 affordable live/work units for artists and their families, retail space on the ground floor, resident gallery and nearly 3,000 square feet of green space for programming outdoor events. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)
A rendering of the Artspace project in Hastings. The new building, dubbed River Lofts, welcomed its first residents this month. The project includes 37 affordable live/work units for artists and their families, retail space on the ground floor, resident gallery and nearly 3,000 square feet of green space for programming outdoor events. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)

A Hopkins site could join 46 Artspace projects and 1,745 live/work units across 19 states. These projects have gone up in urban epicenters such as New York City and Los Angeles, as well as rural towns with populations as small as 900 people. Overall, Artspace has invested approximately $500 million into the country’s arts infrastructure.

According to Artspace officials, these projects benefit both the individual artists and the community. When artists live in an affordable space with a stable rent below market rate, not to mention surround themselves with creativity, they tend to produce more work and therefore generate revenue from their pursuits.

“Artists don’t have to hold down as many other jobs when living with predictable rent,” Holmes pointed out.

Artspace’s third-party studies show that catalyzing the arts community leads to positive transformation for the greater community in a number of ways. According to their findings, the arts can advance public agendas from job creation to transit-oriented development to cultural and historic preservation.

For example, underutilized buildings and historic structures that undergo revitalization put them back onto tax rolls, which leads to safer and more livable neighborhoods without the effects of gentrification.

Hopkins’ city staff members and community members at the meeting received the idea of Artspace coming to town with warm enthusiasm.

Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings sees it as a continuation of the city’s ongoing dedication to the arts.

“We can enrich so many lives through the arts. Let’s expand to the arts; let’s recommit to the arts,” Cummings said.

Libby Scheele, an Excelsior painter, said, “Hopkins is a magical, special place, but it is changing. If [Artspace] moves in here, it will help Hopkins keep its heart and soul.”

Some area artists expressed wishes for Artspace in Hopkins to be as accessible as possible.

Bambi Johnson, a Hopkins native and artist, said Artspace sounds like “[her] dream,” but she was in favor of opening the space to all area artists, so those who aren’t building residents would be able to utilize it too.

“If we did have space go up that only went to 35 people, that would make me sad,” she said.

Michael Yellen, a Glen Lake visual artist, said Artspace should aim for affordability above all.

“They don’t get the break soon enough, fast enough or big enough,” he said of artists who struggle financially.

Artspace tenants are not required to be artists; however, those who participate in the arts are given preference. Applicants can be artists by trade or hobby; their income is not required to come from their art.

“Artists get put into one pile, and that’s the pile we pull from first,” Growcott explained of the application process. “We ask for a portfolio of work that can show [one] has been creating a body of work over time.”

An Artspace resident settles in at her desk. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)
An Artspace resident settles in at her desk. (Photo courtesy of Artspace)

In the eyes of Artspace, an “artist” could be anyone, from a painter to clothing designer to writer to canoe-maker to healing artist and beyond.

“It’s the broadest definition of artist possible,” Growcott said.

A community-based selection committee interviews all applicants and looks for those seriously committed to their craft and who would positively contribute to the building and the community.

Applicants are not judged on quality of work. There are no age limits and units are open to families. Once in, tenants typically live there for an average of seven to eight years.

Although artists are given priority, anyone who qualifies for affordable housing—which is typically earnings at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income—may apply for residency.

Like other affordable housing projects, Artspace mostly utilizes public funding sources to raise money. The majority of funding comes from low income housing tax credits. Additionally, private sector funding comes from philanthropic and conventional bank financing. By ground-breaking, Artspace projects are fully funded and supported.

Once completed, Artspasce remains involved as the owner and operator to ensure the buildings remain affordable for artists over the long term. The projects are financially self-sustaining through tenant rents, which sufficiently cover mortgage payments, fund reserves and operating costs. Any excess revenue goes towards preventive maintenance and building upgrades.

Artspace makes an average of 15 to 20 of these preliminary feasibility visits a year, of which two to four typically lead to projects based on viability of the project, as well as community interest and engagement, which officials say is key to moving forth successfully.

If the project goes forth, the next step would be an extensive arts market study of area demographics by gathering both anecdotal and concrete information on what local artists, elected officials and other community stakeholders want to see from the project. This fall, the city will get a written report with findings and recommendations.

Once an Artspace project is approved, it normally takes anywhere from four to seven years until completion.

Find out more about the organization at artspace.org.

Follow the Sun Sailor on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.