Making Space for Art

Posted on: October 10th, 2007 by Sarah Heffern

The multi-story lobby of the Tilsner Artists’ Cooperative in St. Paul

(This post was written as part of PreservationNation’s coverage of the National Preservation Conference, October 2-6, 2007.)

It's a fairly common occurrence that artists are often the earliest residents in neighborhoods, such as warehouse districts, overcoming years of neglect. With the cachet of a vibrant arts community, more and more people and businesses choose to locate in these areas, leading to an economic upturn. The downside, however, is that rents move beyond what artists can afford to pay, and as a result, they end up evicted from very places their presence made "cool."

Friday morning dawned rainy in St. Paul, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for a field session called "Adapting Historic Buildings for Artists" -- a look at the work of Artspace, a nationwide nonprofit that started in the Twin Cities. The organization's goal is to create affordable housing for artists, eliminating the "Soho effect," the problem outlined above, so called for the once-artsy, now trendy Manhattan neighborhood.

We started our tour in the Northern Warehouse Artists' Cooperative building in the Lowertown area of St. Paul, the first project undertaken by Artspace. Kelley Lindquist, president of the organization, gave a brief talk outlining the history of the group and its projects. Started solely as an advocacy group, Artspace became a developer in the mid-80s. Unlike for-profit companies, however, they purchase, renovate and maintain the buildings as artists live/work spaces, rather than selling off the restored buildings at market rate.

Artist Michael Bahl poses with one of his pieces.Once we heard the Artspace story, we were off to explore. About a dozen artists living in the Northern Warehouse and its sister project, the Tilsner Artists’ Cooperative, opened their homes and workspaces for us. I met painters, musicians, and even a sculptor whose main medium is fossilized dinosaur bones. It was great to see all of the different ways the studio and living spaces were being used; creativity was exhibited everywhere -- not just in the music, painting, and sculptures I saw.

Unfortunately, I had to get back to the convention center when the rest of the group headed to Minneapolis to explore more Artspace projects. I heard good things about the rest of the tour, though, and wish I had been able to hang out longer.

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Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

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