Aurora is one of several Colorado cities talking with Artspace, a nationally renowned nonprofit developer, about creating live-work space for artists. On March 1, the discussion came to the Vintage Theatre, where Artspace discussed the possibility of putting a live-work space for artists in the Aurora Cultural Arts District.
At the start of the meeting, staffers described Artpace's work on projects in places across the country, from major urban centers like New York to smaller towns like Loveland, and presented a lengthy slideshow detailing how Artspace has revamped old spaces into vibrant live-work communities for artists.
Shannon Joern, senior director of national advancement for Artspace, who recently moved to the Denver area, says the group is working on roughly ten projects in Colorado, in an initiative sparked by Governor John Hickenlooper's administration through Colorado Creative Industries.
Fort Collins, Lakewood, Aurora, Elizabeth, Trinidad and Colorado Springs are some of the cities that have been identified as sites for possible Artspace developments. In Denver, the group is working toward constructing a live-work space on a property owned by Westfield, at 42nd Avenue and Brighton Boulevard. The group's spaces are funded through private-public partnerships, including banks, private investors, foundations, government tax-incentives and low-income housing programs.
The Aurora project discussed at the March 1 gathering is in the exploratory stages; Artspace is holding meetings with the public, city officials and artists to talk about what's possible and what the community wants to see. If the group decides to proceed, Artspace will study the market and the demographics of Aurora before picking a site and building and forming a community.
Attendees appeared enthusiastic about a project in Aurora, but several expressed concerns that Denver's population boom would drive up Aurora's property rates, pushing out residents long before any Artspace development could provide housing and workspace for artists and jump-start the economy on East Colfax Avenue.
When Artspace staffers asked the audience what the arts community wanted to see in Aurora, people expressed interest in everything from a place with equipment where the public could make art to larger performance spaces where a community orchestra could hold concerts to a place that would attract people who otherwise drive through the arts district, never even knowing it's there.
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Some in the crowd wanted details about how to move in to a live-work space. What would the sign-up process be? How long would residents be allowed to stay? Who would manage the live-work dynamics?
Artspace had answers ready. The selection for residents would be based on their desire to live in a creative community; they could stay as long as they choose, as Artspace avoids kicking residents out. The average tenant stays seven years, though some have stayed on much longer. And the artists themselves would form committees that would handle everything from grounds maintenance and conflict resolution to programming and babysitting.
Artspace acts as "a benevolent landlord," Joern says. "As far as activity in the building goes, we are hands-off but really supportive."