Natural light. First-floor sculpture facilities. A state-of-the-art recording studio. A retail space to sell art. Those are just a few of the requests creative professionals made during a workshop at the Williamsburg Community Building on Wednesday night.
Representatives from ArtSpace, a nonprofit arts development group, were on hand to help the city launch an online survey that will be used to help the city understand the space needs of its creative class.
Until Dec. 21, surveys will be available online here. There are two surveys: one for individuals and one for organizations and businesses. The city is promoting the survey to people living within a 50-mile radius, in hopes they could provide insight on what the city could do to attract more artists hoping to build what Mayor Clyde Haulman called “a creative economy” in his opening remarks.
About 45 people came to the Community Building on Wednesday to hear a presentation from ArtSpace, which was last in the city in March 2010, when the company completed a feasibility test to see if Williamsburg could support and benefit from an arts district. In February, City Council created an Arts District bounded by Lafayette Street, Monticello Street and Richmond Road. The Arts District provides tax incentives and regulatory relief to qualified creative businesses and artists who do business in the district.
Wendy Holmes, ArtSpace’s vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships, explained how the nonprofit develops and manages spaces for artists, something they might do in Williamsburg after they’ve examined data from the survey. Throughout the United States, the company has rehabbed old buildings and built new ones to provide live/work space for artists. In some cases, when a survey has shown more demand, they’ve opened buildings with only work space and/or gallery space. Holmes said the company was created to provide affordable housing for artists, who traditionally lead the way to revitalize depressed areas, but are quickly priced out of the housing market.
In Everett, Wash., ArtSpace manages a 40-unit building with apartments that have 200 additional square feet for work space. In Brainerd, Minn., ArtSpace rehabbed Franklin Junior High School, turning it into 25 live/work spaces, plus 37,775 square feet for artist studios, arts organizations and arts-friendly businesses. If they build in Williamsburg, they won’t be confined to the Arts District, but would likely choose to locate a project there, Holmes said.
Their live/work projects have been financed by taking advantage of federal programs, such as low-income tax credits, Main Street development funds, historic tax credits and more. Remaining funds come from private contributions or the first mortgage, Holmes said.
ArtSpace manages the facilities and chooses the residents through a competitive application process. The selected artists will have demonstrated a passion and commitment to their work; met the Housing and Urban Development income guidelines; and shown a willingness to give back to the community.
During a question-and-answer session, artists said the Greater Williamsburg area desperately needs space to work, space to show and space to sell art. Shirley Vermillion said artists on the Peninsula were tired of having to drive to Richmond or Norfolk to show their work; another audience member said there is a need to promote contemporary art in Williamsburg. A writer said she’d like to have a micro-office space where she can write in peace. All of those needs could possibly be addressed if there is enough consensus in the survey results, Holmes said.