Artspace launches survey

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Directors with Artspace Projects Inc. officially launched their artist market survey Tuesday evening. The survey helps Artspace directors determine if there is a market for artists in the region that would warrant an artist-oriented housing project in Albert Lea.

The city’s community development staff have collected names of more than 4,200 people to send the survey to, and others who do not receive a postcard about the survey are also welcome to fill it out.

If enough surveys come back saying that people are both interested and income qualified for the project, then it can move forward to the next step.

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The survey can be found online at

Representatives from Artspace originally came to Albert Lea in May, toured four downtown buildings with city leaders, met with members of the local art community and conducted a public forum to inform area residents of their mission.

Artspace — a nationally known, nonprofit organization dedicated to creating affordable, loft-like studios where artists can live as well as work — began in 1979 in response to the decline of Minneapolis’ historic Warehouse District in the 1970s.

Since, it has become the national leader in the field of developing affordable space for artists through adaptive reuse of old warehouses, schools and commercial buildings. Together with the cities it chooses to work with, it purchases and renovates buildings and then leases them back to artists at below-market rates.

In cities where the projects have occurred, there has been much revitalization in the other nearby buildings.

At the end of the initial visit to Albert Lea, Artspace Resource Development Director Roy Close and Government Relations Director Stacy Mickelson formed a report based on their visit, including their responses to the project concept, the market analysis, the site analysis, the financial analysis and local leadership.

At the conclusion of their visit, they indicated they were interested in conducting the survey to see if there is a market for artists in the region.

Since, city staff and others involved with the project have been busy scouting for people who may be interested and qualified to live in the development.

During the Tuesday meeting, Close explained the goals and purpose of Artspace by saying it is the organization’s mission “to create, foster and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organizations.”

Artspace has completed 23 projects in 12 states, with total development costs exceeding $200 million, he said.

When the organization decides where it’s going to do a project, it looks for strong community leadership, for areas with vital artist communities, for buildings or land with significant historical context and to reclaim areas that present redevelopment challenges to a city, Close said.

The organization selects artists for its projects with a selection committee, made up of artists who are not candidates to live in the project plus an Artspace asset manager, he said. They look for an applicant’s commitment to and passion for the art form, and they don’t judge the content or quality of the applicant’s art.

An artist is a person who is regularly engaged in creative work as a career, not simply as a hobby, he said.

The artist market survey will ask for basic demographic information, annual household income, things needed for people to practice their art, information about other things their family needs, and their interest in the proposed project.

“We’re looking for a combination of people who are very interested in living in the project and qualified to live in the project,” Close said.

The survey will typically be online from four to eight weeks. Artspace hopes to reach 3,000 artists and get 300 responses. All responses are confidential.

If the project comes to fruition, the artists would sign leases, just like with any other rental situation.

Mickelson said “we have a hunch that there are” enough artists for the project.

The artist market survey will determine specifically the ideal number and size of units for the project, identify the kinds of spaces needed (residential, studio, performance), determine desirable amenities, he added.

The two directors also talked of the commercial space that usually goes in the first floor of their projects. Inquiries into this space usually come knocking on their door, they said.

City Councilor Larry Baker said he hopes people realize that provided the numbers work out for Albert Lea, an Artspace project can be a very important part of the community redeveloping its downtown. It has a rippling effect.

Close echoed that thought. He said once you bring people downtown to live, the things that are essential for residential neighborhoods follow. Things like small grocery stores and even other residents come as well.

New Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh said he wanted to assure Close and Mickelson that the commitment to the Artspace project will not change just because there have been some new councilors coming on board.

The things he’s hearing about the project are optimistic and it would be a way for the city to recover its investment in the Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson buildings, he said.

Artists of all disciplines are invited to participate in the survey — including painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writer, photographers and even culinary artists.

The 4,200 names that the survey will be sent to include people as far south as Decorah, Iowa, as far east as Rochester, as far north as St. Peter and west to places like Mankato.

Close encouraged people to e-mail the link to the survey to everyone they know.

For questions about the project, contact Flugum at