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UPDATED: Last Night, A Discussion on Artist Housing

by Stephen Becker 28 Sep 2012 3:30 PM

How can the City of Dallas work with a national non-profit developer to create affordable space where artists would live and work? And what might that look like?


One of the biggest challenges to making a living as an artist is finding a place to live. That’s why the city of Dallas and a national nonprofit developer spent much of yesterday talking with artists and arts leaders about a potential live-work project. KERA’s Stephen Becker listened in.

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Zoetina Veal, a painter and recent TCU graduate, is worried. And she’s not the only one.

“The main concern with most of us who just graduated is we need to continue making art,” she says. “We don’t want to lose the momentum from school. And finding a place to live and work to create art is the most important thing.”

That’s what Minneapolis-based Artspace has done for artists in 32 affordable housing projects nationwide, including spots in Houston and Galveston. Additional projects in El Paso and Austin are on the way. (You can take a tour of all of Artspace’s developments on the company’s website.) The developments are funded with low-income housing tax credits, community development block grants, philanthropy and other sources.

So far, the City of Dallas has spent $55,000 to research whether that kind of project will work here. That includes a formal market study that Artspace will conduct in the spring.

This week’s trip involved several meetings and a public forum at City Performance Hall. It was more about letting Artspace officials get the lay of the land and find out what artists are looking for. Artspace apartments include both living and studio space. And low-income tax credits mean a one bedroom apartment in a Dallas Artspace development could rent for $790 a month.

Dallas artist Justin Nygren said that figure sounded reasonable to him, especially considering utilities are often included. And being able to live and work in the same place is huge.

“They’re typically either two different locations – so you’re paying rent for an apartment and rent for a studio,” he said. “Or you’re sacrificing space in your own home – you’re sacrificing a bedroom, you’re sacrificing your kitchen, or your dining room for creative space. I think having the live-work space option – it answers so many questions artists face.”

But where to put this dream house? East Dallas, West Dallas, Oak Cliff, the Design District, Exposition Park and other neighborhoods were suggested during the meetings.

It was a lot for Artspace’s Wendy Holmes, who’s based in Minneapolis, to digest.

“What I didn’t really understand or appreciate was how far out the arts are throughout Dallas and that there’s lots of pockets of arts activity, but not really a central location – particularly for individual artists,” she said. ” And that’s fine – but it makes it a little bit more challenging to figure out where to locate a project like this.”

So how do you chose? Ultimately, Artspace and the city will have to agree on a location. That could involve retrofitting an existing building, new construction or a combination of the two.

“I hope that in Dallas we’ll look at this like an ecosystem. That we can begin to create more affordable spaces for artists in multiple neighborhoods,” Holmes said.