- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - “If there was a place for them to live, they could live on their own,” said Janice Miller, president of the Merchant Street Gallery of Artists with Autism, about the young artists she sees contributing to the gallery. “Many are ready to move out once they financially can do so.”

It was a sentiment shared by many in the April focus group led by representatives from Artspace, a nonprofit which develops and manages real estate particularly geared toward the arts. Participants included leaders at Feed Arts and Cultural Center, local business owners, community theater leaders, representatives from the Community Arts Council, as well a handful of local artists from across mediums.

Artspace also met with financial and civic leaders, as well as holding a public forum, to assess whether Kankakee had potential to be their next project. The two Artspace consultants, as well as local leaders, looked at six potential historic buildings within walking distance of Kankakee’s downtown to develop.

Artspace owns and operates 46 projects in 19 states and Washington, D.C., including four in the greater Chicagoland area. Two more are in development in Chicago.

“Far too often, we see so many of our artists graduate school and get out of here,” said Michael Costanza, president of Feed. “We need more creative minds. With more creative spaces coming around, we’re seeing people coming out of the woodwork. We could continue to see our creative artists stick around.”

Katie Bretzlaff, an art teacher at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, said her students are in favor of the idea. “They were excited that by the time they graduate, there could be a place for them.”

Most are live/work or mixed-use residential units, in which each dwelling has extra space (100 to 200 square feet) that the artist can use as a studio. This minimizes their cost of living, because they aren’t paying two rents for a separate studio. It also relieves the financial burden many feel, because they have to work two or three side jobs.

These projects get artists “out from working in the alleys,” said Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace. “It’s not just about buildings. It’s about a community and the art that makes a community what it is.”

In a study Artspace did of its projects five years ago, it found that over time the artists derived a larger percentage of their income from their art, because they were more visible. These buildings also drove local traffic to these areas, as almost all had an area set aside for the artists to sell their art or hold community classes and events.

Other potential projects include community gathering spaces, areas for art-related businesses, working studios, a makers space (where artists could have memberships and rent space or large equipment) or performance spaces.

Even if Artspace decides not to develop a project here, it is available for consultation on continuing the artist community growing here organically, said Anna Growcott, director of consulting and strategic partnerships.

“Art isn’t for art’s sake,” Growcott said. “It’s aligning with broader goals.”

Some of those broader goals can include creating a more vibrant downtown, retaining young people after they graduate high school or college and maintaining affordability.

The average age of a person living in an Artspace development is 47, and they stay for about seven years. Artspace works in both large cities and small towns, from New York City, to communities of 900 people. These dwellings are designed for families and have a mixture of one to three bedroom apartments. The actual building is done by as many local contractors and architects as possible.

The developments are funded by a mix of public and private funds. A large portion often comes from federal, state or county housing tax credits. To apply, residents would need to qualify for these tax credits, although Holmes said most artists do, since only about 10 percent of artists make 100 percent of their income from their art.

Other funding comes from a variety of sources: Local and regional foundations, historic preservation tax incentives, donations and local philanthropy, grants and mortgages, on which Artspace would be the borrower.

While each project varies, the average is 72 percent of funding derived from public programs, 13 percent from financing and 15 percent from philanthropy.

In the next several months, Artspace will create and write up a report to present back to city leaders. At that time, if it’s deemed a feasible project, Artspace will conduct an online survey of artists in and around Kankakee to ask a few questions: What do artists need here? Would area artists move into this development?

It will then take the answers from the survey, and assess whether it makes financial sense to build an Artspace community here. Developments typically take 4 to 6 years to complete.

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/2pC4p13

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Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com


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