Survey finds market for live/work arts community

Such development has helped other downtowns become ‘nicer places to live,’ says Seattle artist

ahobbs@theolympian.comMarch 20, 2014 

The organization behind a recent survey has a plan to boost Olympia’s economy through art.

The Olympia Artspace Alliance asked local artists and creative organizations about their interest in an affordable community where artists could live and work. The survey was conducted between October and December 2013, and attracted nearly 700 participants. Results were released Monday.

Supporters see the project as a catalyst for economic development. Board member Kris Tucker said the alliance will explore potential sites as well as options for funding, grants and donations. Tucker said the goal is to have the project “realized” in five years with a finished building.

“Olympia has a very healthy arts community,” she said, noting the push to bring more housing downtown. “This kind of project would turn the corner for downtown to become a healthier residential environment.”

The survey shows that the community can support up to 52 “live-work” units in downtown Olympia. The survey also reveals interest for art spaces in west Olympia and the east side. Nearly two-thirds of artists interested in moving to such a space are white females, according to the survey, and half of the interested artists report an income of less than $25,000 a year.

Similar projects in the region include the Artspace Everett Lofts, which contains 40 residential units in a four-story building, along with a gallery and studio spaces on the ground floor. Other models for Olympia include the Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts and the Artspace Hiawatha Lofts, both in Seattle.

Catherine “Cappy” Thompson has lived at the Sunny Arts Artist Cooperative in Seattle for about 25 years, but called Olympia home in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a full-time artist who specializes in painted glass, Thompson lives and works under one roof with like-minded neighbors. She said this kind of arrangement helps artists survive and even thrive.

“I like having other artists nearby,” she said. “There’s kind of an energy with artists that contributes to the energy of their own work.”

In a common scenario, artists will move into underutilized areas with cheap rent, but are often compelled to leave once the area becomes gentrified and the rents skyrocket.

“Artists are good for cities because they make them nicer places to live,” said Thompson, noting that she was priced out of several places during her younger years. “Artists need to have a reasonably inexpensive place to do their thing.”

According to the Thurston County Economic Development Council, the arts sector has shown positive growth since 2008, and the county ranks first in Washington for per-capita jobs related to the creative class of employment. Examples of arts-related jobs include painting, music, writing, photography, graphic design, acting, architecture and more.

Survey results

To view the survey’s results, visit http://

Kris Tucker, board member of the Olympia Artspace Alliance, will share the survey’s findings at 8:30 a.m. March 28 at the Downtown Academy event, which is sponsored by the Olympia Downtown Association. To RSVP, call 360-357-8948.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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