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Artspace Builds Arts Developments Across Colorado — but Not in Denver

Artspace's plans to open affordable housing and work space for artists in North Wynkoop were dashed in 2019.EXPAND
Artspace's plans to open affordable housing and work space for artists in North Wynkoop were dashed in 2019.
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Shannon Joern, who'd been the Denver-based vice president of national advancement for Artspace, the Minneapolis nonprofit developer behind multiple live-work spaces across Colorado, has stepped down from her role. From her home in Denver, she was instrumental in working with the arts community on projects in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Wheat Ridge, Trinidad, Grand Lake and Ridgway, developing strong ties to arts groups statewide and pushing forward various affordable solutions for artist live and work spaces.

In Denver, though, she encountered more challenges.

A year ago, she and Artspace staff found themselves in a disappointing situation. They had spent more than a decade trying to build a live-work space for creatives in Denver and had even secured a site in the River North Art District. The group found a for-profit development partner, Westfield, and together they planned to build 85 units of affordable housing for creatives. But the nonprofit was unable to raise enough money on the accelerated timeline of Westfield, which was on a crunch to open AEG’s newest venue, the Mission Ballroom.

“From our perspective, this isn’t about a lack of financing, or financing that fell through,” Joern told Westword last April. “This is really about the challenges that truly exist when you’re trying to align a nonprofit real estate development effort with a for-profit development effort. Ultimately, pressures and timelines are very different.”

The failed project left Artspace staff rethinking the kinds of collaborations they were willing to get into with for-profit developers. As for any future project in the Mile High City?

“We’re very open to other possibilities in Denver,” says Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace. “We’re not pursuing anything at this time actively.”

But the nonprofit is still working, at various stages of the process, on projects in other Colorado cities, including Aurora. What Artspace has enjoyed about working in Colorado — versus other states with fewer mechanisms for funding affordable-housing projects — is the diversity of funding streams that can be cobbled together to bring projects to life. “Colorado has an amazing array of resources if you think about how to cleverly piece them together,” Holmes says. “Not that it’s easy.”

Definitely not in Denver, which has not announced anything else in the works to solve the affordable-housing crisis facing artists.

Maybe Joern will be recruited to help find a fix.

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