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Affordable Housing for Artists Could Be Coming to Dallas
by Stephen Becker 18 Jul 2012

One of the reasons starving artists are starving is that they have to spend their food money on rent. But help may be on the way as a national nonprofit developer is working with the City of Dallas to create affordable housing specifically designed for artists.

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Artspace’s Elder Street Lofts in Houston — the former Jefferson Davis Hospital

One of the reasons starving artists are starving is that they have to spend their food money on rent. But help may be on the way as a national nonprofit developer is working with the City of Dallas to create affordable housing specifically designed for artists.


In Erik Glissman’s workshop, he makes everything from furniture to public art pieces. He shares the work space with two other people.

It’s about 10 miles from the house he shares with three roommates. And it would be nice, he says, if home and work were closer together.

GLISSMAN: “It may be 9 o’clock at night where I have an idea that I’d like to go out in the shop to start working on. And that’s obviously not necessarily financially feasible for me just to take off and drive across town to come open up the shop and work for 10-15 minutes and then go back home.”

Many artists face similar situations. Glissman has another job to make ends meet. And finding housing he can afford, in an area where he wants to live, that’s near functional studio space is nearly impossible.

But a solution may be on the way. That’s because a non-profit developer is working with the City of Dallas to create an affordable housing project designed for artists.

The company, Artspace, develops properties that include both living and studio space for artists. They feature elements that artists look for: high ceilings, extra wide doorways and large windows. (Left, the lobby of Artspace’s National Hotel Artist Lofts in Galveston.)

Wendy Holmes is the head of consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace.

HOLMES: “Fifteen years ago, when we were just starting to do more work nationally, Dallas was on the radar in terms of artists needing space and finding themselves priced out of various neighborhoods.”

In September, Artspace and city officials will study what local artists are looking for in housing and work space, and whether there’s enough demand for this project. Then, if the project continues, they’ll look at buildings that could be redeveloped. They’ll also put together funding.

Money for Artspace projects usually comes from many sources, including low income housing tax credits, community development block grants, tax increment financing and philanthropy.

Those varied funding sources help keep rents low. For example, a 1,000 square foot apartment in Minneapolis, where Artspace is based, would typically go for $1,250 to $1,800 a month. But Artspace rents comparable places there for $500 to $700.

Zad Roumaya is a Dallas developer who helped link Artspaces with the city. Before becoming a developer, he lived commission-to-commission for five years as a sculptor.

ROUMAYA: “As a former working artist experiencing those highs and lows, I just thought, ‘What a perfect fit for a city not only of this size, but just the attitude of how we support the arts at so many layers.’ … The security of an artist’s mind – when they have a long term security in a space that a) is affordable but b) is designed well and prompts creative thinking – that actually juices their creative process that much more.”

Glissman says that there is also a cumulative benefit to being around other artists

GLISSMAN: “The kind of work I do, you’re constantly running into different problems and things you couldn’t foresee. And it’s really nice to have people from different perspectives be able to come in and help you problem-solve sometimes.”

Artspace has completed 30 projects since it was founded in 1979. Eleven more such spaces are in development around the country. The process is designed so that when construction finally begins, all of the funding is in place and a potential clientele has been identified.

Artspace’s model is what initially interested Karl Zavitkovsky. He’s the director of the city’s office of economic development.

ZAVITKOVSKY: “It’s like any good developer – they aren’t going to get way far out on their skis so to speak. They’re not going to get engaged with something until they find the right building, they understand the costs and how those costs are going to be met.”

The whole process typically takes three to five years. The developers and the city say the effort is worth it for what artists contribute to the culture. Glissman is working on a public art piece for Fort Worth Avenue. And he’s also the executive director of Art Conspiracy, an annual fundraiser for nonprofit arts programs.  Plus, once a neighborhood gets an artist-friendly reputation, Roumaya says it becomes a target for additional development.

ROUMAYA: “When the commercial artists, photographers, graphic designers, fine artists start showing up – that is one of the first indicators that developers watch.”

The downside for artists is that can mean skyrocketing rents. But Artspace’s Wendy Holmes says that wouldn’t happen.

HOLMES: “We don’t sell our buildings, we don’t look for opportunities to play in the open market. We’re looking for the longest terms of affordability so that artists will always be a healthy part of a growing community.”

Image outfront from Shutterstock

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  • Mountain Heart VP

    Stephen, Thank you for this story!

  • Mountain Heart VP

    Stephen, Thank you for this story!

  • Christopher Martin

    This is Awesome, when can we hear more updates about where and when this will officially take place in Dallas ?
    Whom do I contact to find out more?

  • Christopher Martin

    This is Awesome, when can we hear more updates about where and when this will officially take place in Dallas ?
    Whom do I contact to find out more?

  • Anonymous

    @Christopher – From what I understand, they will be getting the word out on some public meetings to be held at the end of September. When we find out information on them we will certainly post it here.

  • sbeckerKERA

    @Christopher – From what I understand, they will be getting the word out on some public meetings to be held at the end of September. When we find out information on them we will certainly post it here.

    • robb

      This is what Dallas needs so bad, how do we find out more about the idea and how to become involved.. I’d like to know.. !
      robb conover 214-623-7790

  • Anonymous

    My suggestion for a great building to renovate for artists’ live/work spaces: Old Dallas High School or Crozier Tech. Probably the city’s LAST CHANCE to have actual working artists living somewhere marginally near the Arts District. ‘Course, a developer has already announced $10 million plans to re-do it for apartments [http://tinyurl.com/7fvegvf] but still … it’s only at the beginning of that development. Arrangements could still be made.

    • I’ve been saying the same thing for years. A perfect building for such an enterprise. Are there really homeless rich people that need more apartments?

    • Clayc Nouveau47

      There’s not chance for the city to acquire the Crozier Tech Blg. The “Arts District” wasn’t built for local art or artists. It is a few pretty buildings that help us tap into the national touring vein. and that’s fine, it’s good infact, but it doesn’t support the local art scene at all. (but I have a lot to say about that… another topic another time)
      I would imagine the Cedars area would be perfect for something like this. There are a number of industrial spaces prime for the space they are looking for and to support future galleries that would hopefully open in the area subsequently, the new film studios are over there, and the south side lofts regularly support artists and arts events. It seems it would be a perfect location.

      • Anonymous

        You’re absolutely right the Cedars or even Bishop Arts would make for a more practical suggestion. I was just dreaming of a way to return the Arts District to what was originally planned for it — it actually had retail and housing as part of the mix. But as for your dismissal of the entire district as “pretty buildings that help us tap into the national touring vein,” you’ve pretty much reduced the District to the Lexus Broadway Series at the Winspear. Even the Winspear is a welcome home for the Dallas Opera, the Wyly is home for the DTC and the Dallas Black Dance Theatre — plus, oh, there’s the DMA, the Nasher, the Crow, the expanded Arts Magnet, etc.

        I’ve been outspoken in my fear that the Arts District would never live up to its original ideals, but you’re oversimplifying the problems.

  • JeromeWeeks

    My suggestion for a great building to renovate for artists’ live/work spaces: Old Dallas High School or Crozier Tech. Probably the city’s LAST CHANCE to have actual working artists living somewhere marginally near the increasingly ironically named Arts District (why would we want any artists around?). ‘Course, a developer has already announced $10 million plans to re-do it for what sounds like yet more rich-people apartments [http://tinyurl.com/7fvegvf]. But still … it’s only at the beginning of that development. Arrangements could still be made, right? Right?

    • I’ve been saying the same thing for years. A perfect building for such an enterprise. Are there really homeless rich people that need more apartments?

    • Clayc Nouveau47

      There’s not chance for the city to acquire the Crozier Tech Blg. The “Arts District” wasn’t built for local art or artists. It is a few pretty buildings that help us tap into the national touring vein. and that’s fine, it’s good infact, but it doesn’t support the local art scene at all. (but I have a lot to say about that… another topic another time)
      I would imagine the Cedars area would be perfect for something like this. There are a number of industrial spaces prime for the space they are looking for and to support future galleries that would hopefully open in the area subsequently, the new film studios are over there, and the south side lofts regularly support artists and arts events. It seems it would be a perfect location.

      • JeromeWeeks

        You’re absolutely right the Cedars or even Bishop Arts would make for a more practical suggestion. I was just dreaming of a way to return the Arts District to what was originally planned for it — it actually had retail and housing as part of the mix. But as for your dismissal of the entire district as “pretty buildings that help us tap into the national touring vein,” you’ve pretty much reduced the District to the Lexus Broadway Series at the Winspear. Even the Winspear is a welcome home for the Dallas Opera, the Wyly is home for the DTC and the Dallas Black Dance Theatre — plus, oh, there’s the DMA, the Nasher, the Crow, the expanded Arts Magnet, etc.

        I’ve been outspoken in my fear that the Arts District would never live up to its original ideals, but you’re oversimplifying the problems.

  • I’m skeptical about the “affordable” promise. This is Dallas after all. I am a struggling artist who rents a room in a house, that serves as my living and studio space, for $312.25 a month. I can’t afford to pay more than this along with my student loans and credit card debt.

    • Well, they did take property in Minneapolis that goes for $1250-1800/mo and make it affordable for $500-700/mo, so why couldn’t they do that here, like with some of the low-rises and high-rises! I saw an ad on Craigslist for a place downtown around $700 inclusive and it wasn’t even marketed at artists, so I’ll be looking into that one before my lease expires in another month. I’m paying $550 for an apt in a big complex with carpet and nosy neighbors, so I’m looking for a nice place close to town or in East Dallas. There is so many small problems here, and the carpet is not condusive for Art, or having a cat! I used my parent’s floor to do a couple of mural pieces when they lived in the same complex. This sounds great, but I wish it was already available; for now, I’ll settle for good windows and no carpet in a quieter neighborhood where I can find it, provided it’s a cdecent neighborhood!

  • I’m skeptical about the “affordable” promise. This is Dallas after all. I am a struggling artist who rents a room in a house, that serves as my living and studio space, for $312.25 a month. I can’t afford to pay more than this along with my student loans and credit card debt.

    • Well, they did take property in Minneapolis that goes for $1250-1800/mo and make it affordable for $500-700/mo, so why couldn’t they do that here, like with some of the low-rises and high-rises! I saw an ad on Craigslist for a place downtown around $700 inclusive and it wasn’t even marketed at artists, so I’ll be looking into that one before my lease expires in another month. I’m paying $550 for an apt in a big complex with carpet and nosy neighbors, so I’m looking for a nice place close to town or in East Dallas. There is so many small problems here, and the carpet is not condusive for Art, or having a cat! I used my parent’s floor to do a couple of mural pieces when they lived in the same complex. This sounds great, but I wish it was already available; for now, I’ll settle for good windows and no carpet in a quieter neighborhood where I can find it, provided it’s a cdecent neighborhood!

  • Maybe we can create some affordable housing for starving non-profit employees who work from home, too 🙂

  • Maybe we can create some affordable housing for starving non-profit employees who work from home, too 🙂

  • downtownworker

    I think the Cedars and Bishop Arts are fine suggestions, but I would love for them to use the Knights of Pythias Temple in Deep Ellum (2551 Elm St). Otherwise the Thomas Building on Wood (next to the old Federal Reserve building).

  • red

    …and artists should be given special housing and rates WHY, exactly?

    I have a cat. Maybe I should take legal action to force *everyone’s* tax dollars to pay for me and my cat. Why? Well, because I have a cat, of course. Therefore, I’m special.

    “Money for Artspace projects usually comes from many sources, including
    low income housing tax credits….tax
    increment financing and philanthropy.”

    Why does everything deemed “art” seem to require some type of exception
    that the rest of us end up paying for with *our* tax dollars?

  • Has anyone heard anything new about this possibility? I would hate to miss out on a wonderful opportunity.

  • Lisa Modisette

    Has anything happened as a result of this? My favorite musician is still looking for affordable space to have his horns and drums, not distrub the neighbors but still practice and record. Any change?