Broadway Cultural CorridorLos Angeles, CA
This month Artspace was invited by our partners in the Downtown Cultural Quarter (DCQ) collaborative to submit our blog update, and we are pleased to do so. Over the last 30 years, Artspace has been involved in scores of creative placemaking projects across the country. Our particular expertise is in using the tools of real estate development to ensure creative placemaking efforts are sustainable – and that they remain affordable and accessible to artists even after a community undergoes significant transition.
The DCQ in LA is actually our sixth ArtPlace-funded project. We are also leading efforts in East Harlem, New York; Minot, North Dakota; the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana; Loveland, CO; and Honolulu, Hawaii.
UPDATE AND REFLECTION
The biggest update is that our team is starting to narrow our focus on a few potential sites, where an arts-focused development would positively align with the interests of local artists, neighbors, elected officials, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), California Institute of the Arts, the Actors Fund, and other local leaders and project partners. Those are a lot of agendas to juggle – but we believe we are getting very close to finalizing a site.
It’s not about the easiest site or the quickest solution. Affordability is key but it’s not the only criteria. We could partner with a developer to fulfill their affordable housing requirements by squeezing our concept into someone else’s. We know that there is a place where our piece of the puzzle will help bring the whole picture into focus. So we have looked and continue to look along the Broadway Corridor and in the Arts District, Little Tokyo, and even Boyle Heights. Each neighborhood has its own unique culture, values, vision, assets, challenges, stakeholders, businesses and organizations. In each case we meet with developers active in the area, property owners, neighborhood and business groups, and cultural and arts organizations, and we also check in with civic leaders and our key partners along the way. We want to work together to discover how our project might solve an organization or a neighborhood’s challenge. We look at not only the real estate options (new construction and rehab), but also at new, potential partners to invite to the table, how our concept and programming might change to adapt to and integrate with a new location, how the artists who will be involved in the project will be able to relate to and interact with this new “place,” and how it will serve their artistic and family needs – Is it close to public transit? Are there cultural assets in the area that will facilitate their work? Are there inherent opportunities for engaging neighborhood residents and visitors simply based on location, or is there an opportunity to attract new energy to an inactive pocket?
There are and continue to be many wins in this project, but for us, two stand out.
The first is the terrific partnership that we have forged with the Actors Fund Housing and Development Corporation (AFHDC) and DCA. We are especially excited about the AFHDC’s participation because they bring a wealth of social service expertise to the table that has often been absent in our projects, and we know that we are learning something new every day from their knowledge base. As for the DCA, this is no secret, but: Olga Garay-English is fantastic! If every city had as passionate and capable Director of Cultural Affairs, the world would be a truly different – and more fabulous – place.
Second, we are really pleased that in this very politically charged, economically complicated, multi-tiered partnership, the project has been able to sustain what we consider to be essential principles of social purpose real estate development. These include:
• Wealth Building: Generally speaking, a for-profit developer will structure deals and manage a project to maximize its capacity to extract value from a community – through fees, rent, and ultimately sale. Artspace works in the opposite manner. Because we are committed to long-term affordability, our model is structured to leave dollars in a project – deferred fees, capital reinvestment, community space, no sale. A successful Artspace project creates wealth for its host community, not for Artspace.
• Social Density: A developer motivated by profit will think of “density” as the opportunity to squeeze the most rentable units possible into a limited space. Artspace thinks of density as the opportunity to create dynamic social exchange. We prioritize non-revenue generating spaces like community rooms; we stretch living space to double as studios; and we turn hallways into well-lit galleries. While these enhancements limit rental income, they help build better communities through the arts.
• Risk and Return: Artspace intentionally goes where the needs are great and the projects are hard, because there we can have the greatest impact. If a developer is motivated by financial profit, it cherry-picks easy targets; if it wants to leverage the arts as a force of change, it goes to areas such as the Broadway Corridor in Downtown LA, East Harlem in NYC, and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For example, no for-profit developer has proposed a viable alternative for the Bell School project in New Orleans, and PS109 in New York sat vacant for more than a decade before Artspace agreed to take it on.
• As Long as It Takes: Because Artspace projects are as much about trust and understanding as bricks and mortar, we are committed to substantive community engagement and capacity building. Our projects require a deep investment of organizational resources and take 3 – 5 years, and sometimes longer, to complete. While this may be longer than a for-profit equivalent, it is balanced by decades of impact after opening.
• Sustained Commitment to Artists: We have all learned that the presence of artists can add value to a community. Some for-profit developers take advantage of this opportunity by introducing new spaces as “artist housing,” with the understanding that those spaces can be flipped to more valuable use as a neighborhood gentrifies. Aspiring to create improved livability without gentrification, Artspace ensures that our buildings remain permanently affordable to the artists and arts organizations of a community.