Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects creates, owns, and operates affordable spaces for artists in small towns across the U.S. So when Artspace headed to Cheyenne, Wyoming to see if it could work with the city, we couldn't help but pay attention. After all, if it works for Cheyenne, perhaps it can work for your town and arts organization.
Indeed, the most appropriate questions — and the ones on the minds of Cheyenne's arts stakeholders — are the questions that ask exactly what compels funders to open up their checkbooks to help create affordable spaces. What role do arts organizations play during this process? And can arts organizations use this intelligence to lobby funders to develop affordable spaces in their city?
We came up with four must-haves a city should possess if it wants to work with groups like Artspace:
- Engaged civic leaders. Artspace and other funders need to make sure they can do business with local politicians and officials. And as far as Cheyenne is concerned, they're all in. The Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority/Main Street was the sponsor for Artspace's visit. (If your organization has yet to establish these kinds of relationships, perhaps it's time to make a call.)
- Appropriate spaces. Not all dilapidated warehouses can be converted into art studios and funders like Artspace can be quite selective in identifying appropriate spaces. Here's where local arts organizations can flex their muscles, as they can speak to the appropriateness of certain spaces just as much as local officials.
- A preexisting arts scene. While it would be nice for artists to immediately gravitate towards cities like Cheyenne the moment they receive funding, it's better for a candidate city to have a preexisting community so revitalization can be driven from the ground up. Again, there's a huge role here for regional arts organizations to articulate their city's local scene and where they'd take it with additional resources.
- Demand for space. Naturally, a preexisting arts scene suggests there would also be a demand for space, but there are exceptions. Cheyenne, for example, has a thriving art scene and also holds the distinction of being an affordable city. Arts organizations seeking funding need to show that local artists cannot, in fact, afford existing spaces or that the city lacks spaces to begin with. Cheyenne officials wisely sent surveys to all regional artists to get their thoughts on these very issues.
For more analysis around the state of small-town arts revitalization, check out IP's take on the Knight Foundation's efforts to develop new arts programs by soliciting ideas from the young people of Grand Forks, North Dakota.