Affordable (and Rural) Housing for Artists? That’s the Statewide Plan

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The night before applications opened for studio apartments at the Artspace Loveland Arts Campus in the remodeled Loveland Feed and Grain building, artists started lining up around the block. “It was midnight and like minus 20 degrees,” recalls Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries in the state's Office of Economic Development. “There’s a lot of demand for this.”

So much demand, says Hunt, that the Loveland project – which opened earlier this month – will serve as a model for Space to Create, a bigger initiative rolled out this week that will bring similar projects to small towns across the state.

Like the Loveland project, Space to Create will partner with Artspace, a Minneapolis-based organization that, among other ventures, rehabs old warehouses and industrial spaces for artists to get on the cheap; and as with the Loveland project, a chunk of the funding will come from the Boettcher Foundation. "[Boettcher Foundation’s] Tim Schultz actually approached us and suggested an expansion around rural Colorado,” says Hunt. “The Denver metro area has done a remarkable job of economic recovery, but other parts of the state still have relatively high unemployment rates.

“There’s a lot of evidence,” she continues, “that when artists and creative types move into neighborhoods, they typically move into neighborhoods that are on the margins, where they can easily find affordable space, and then those neighborhoods become hip and cool and there’s economic development. But then what happens is that gentrification occurs and artists can no longer afford those neighborhoods. The idea is to create a more sustainable model, to look at how communities can develop permanent residential and commercial spaces for creatives to do business.”

Part of that sustainable model includes driving those artists to more rural communities, which Creative Industries sees as a win-win: artists get cheap space, and hopefully drive economic development to the places that need it most.

Eventually, Creative Industries – which serves as the lead agency among many involved – hopes to take the project to nine regions around the state, with Trinidad serving as the pilot program, essentially. “Trinidad is good for a number of reasons,” Hunt says. “There’s incredible architecture – these old brick buildings and beautiful brick streets – and it’s been economically challenged for many years. And they have what we characterize as organizational skills combined with a kind of public will.”

That last part, is important: The state is willing to provide the assist, but a given community has to want it. “This is not about us plopping down a project,” Hunt notes.

And, of course, the plan needs willing artists – and if they’re willing to go to Loveland, maybe they’re willing to go to Trinidad, too.

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