Olympia survey queries artists, groups about housing, studios

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 13, 2013 

The Olympia Artspace Alliance has wrapped up a two-pronged survey to gauge interest in a housing development for artists.

Supporters say the project will strengthen the local economy while giving the creative community an affordable place to live, work and perform.

Conducted by the Olympia Artspace Alliance, the surveys concluded Thursday. One survey targeted artists, while the other survey was for arts organizations and creative businesses.

Results should be available by late February or early March. Based on the feedback, the alliance will determine how to move forward with the project. The next phase would require fundraising to determine size, location and design.

The eventual goal is to partner with Artspace, a company based in Minneapolis that has led investments in arts infrastructure across the nation. According to its website, Artspace’s mission is to “create, foster and preserve affordable space for artists and organizations.”

One example in the Puget Sound region is the Artspace Everett Lofts, a four-story building with 40 living units. The ground floor’s Schack Arts Center features a gallery and glassblowing facility along with rentable studio spaces for special events.

The Everett building serves as a potential model for the Olympia area. Artspace also completed two projects in Seattle: Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts and the Artspace Hiawatha Lofts.

By keeping the housing prices below market rates in perpetuity, the project would allow local artists to live and work in a space of their own without being priced out through gentrification.

“One thing that Olympia really needs to do is have places for artists to live and work in an affordable manner,” said Ron Hinton, a studio artist for 40 years and a member of the alliance. “It would just really be a shot in the arm for downtown to have a project like this.”

The Olympia Artspace Alliance formed in 2011, and raised $42,500 over two years to pursue the study.

Michael Cade, executive director for the Thurston County Economic Development Council, said the arts sector was among the few that showed positive growth since recession began in 2008. Jobs go beyond the paints and easels to include musicians, writers, photographers, graphic designers, actors, architects and more.

The Artspace project would bring positive value to the region while raising the quality of life, regardless of its final location, Cade said. Such a development would create a more vibrant retail and business community in the vicinity.

“People support arts with their dollars,” said Cade, noting support through patronage and donations in the county, even when economic times are tough. “The population values strongly the artistic community.”

According to the council’s Creative Vitality Index, Thurston County ranks first among all Washington’s counties in per-capita jobs related to the creative class of employment. The index notes an overall upward trend in performing arts participation, arts-related jobs and arts-related retail sales between 2008 and 2012. The retail sales included galleries and stores that specialize in books, music or photography.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com @andyhobbs

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