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Artist Space Development: Making the Case

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Document date: January 01, 2007
Released online: April 18, 2008

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

The text below is an introduction to the complete document. Read the full report in PDF format.


The development of affordable spaces for artists to live and/or work is certainly an important matter for artists, but it can also be an important issue for people concerned with a range of social issues, including economic development, civic engagement, community collective action, and community quality of life. This report considers how artist space developments have been positioned and the arguments made to garner support for them, the advocacy strategies used, and the impacts claimed or anticipated.


In recent years, leaders in the fields of the arts, community development and urban planning have begun to turn their attention to artists’ space development projects, including live-work spaces, studios, affordable housing for artists, and artist-run multipurpose spaces. While many different kinds of these developments exist around the country, little research has focused on how artist space projects come to fruition or on the kinds of impacts they have on artists and communities.

To begin to address this void, the Urban Institute, commissioned by a national initiative dedicated to providing a range of supports for artists called Leveraging Investments in Creativity (linc), conducted a research study that focused on selected artist space projects in seven cities throughout the United States—Detroit, MI; New Orleans, LA; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Providence, RI; Seattle, WA; and Tucson, AZ. Rather than an exhaustive examination of all artist space developments, researchers focused primarily on the most prominent development projects that could serve as examples of a range of approaches.

Artists, developers, foundations and corporate sponsors, lenders, private investors, municipal leaders, advocates become involved in the development of artists’ spaces for many reasons, including:

  • To create spaces suitable for artists’ special needs
  • To create or enhance artists’ communities and stimulate the production of innovative art work
  • To catalyze economic investment in disinvested neighborhoods
  • To bring more vibrancy to blighted areas, sometimes as a business venture
  • To give places a competitive economic edge as well as an advantage in terms of quality of life

Our field research within this study involved site visits to 30 emergent and mature artist space developments, and in-person interviews with various players involved in these initiatives, including artists, community developers, lenders, funders, architects, designers, and urban planners. Developments examined ranged from private ventures by artists requiring little or no outside resources or partners to midsized and large-scale efforts requiring resources from investors and philanthropies as well as public subsidy. Initiatives examined include livework spaces as well as studio, presentation, and multipurpose spaces in residential, mixed-use, commercial, and industrial areas.

The primary focus of the Urban Institute research was on the development process and the systems supporting artist space developments in various places—the players involved, the strategies for financing these projects, and the challenges faced in this process. The general development and financing processes are the topics of another report from our research.This report is concerned with a particularly important aspect of the development process for several of the initiatives requiring outside resources; positioning artist space developments within the context of other policy priorities, particularly in arts, community development, and urban revitalization realms and making the case for artist space projects in these contexts. Positioning of such developments has important implications for any advocacy strategies required to bring the projects to fruition and for expectations related to artist space impacts.

Specifically, this report discusses (a) how the developments, which have required the infusion of outside resources, have positioned themselves and the arguments they have made to garner support; (b) the advocacy strategies they have pursued; and (c) the impacts they claim and/or anticipate. This report features 23 of the 30 developments in the study. We focus only on those projects where it was clear that a case for support of the project had to be made to the public sector, foundations, or investors. The material presented here is based primarily on the experiences of projects examined in 2005 but is also informed by previous research on environments of support for artists around the country.

(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.)

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