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Targeting Investment in the Arts: Part 2

Topic CDFIs

Artists value the process of remaking space and help reveal the potential for recovery inherent in many urban neighborhoods. In both the redevelopment of discrete buildings and incremental renewal of large districts, they provide entrepreneurial energy to the task of preserving something old through the development of something new.

In Baltimore, Reinvestment Fund is developing a strategy to target investment in the arts to low-income communities in Central Baltimore, where it can catalyze and build on other complementary efforts. For one year, our Creative Placemaking Fellow, Rebecca Chan, was charged with the task of developing best practices for financing the arts in distressed neighborhoods in ways that build community among both new and existing residents. Her case study is Baltimore and what follows is the second in a 4-part series on her work. This work is supported by The Kresge and Surdna Foundations’ Catalyzing Culture and Community through CDFIs, or C4, a joint initiative intended to help support and expand CDFIs involvement in creative placemaking.

Part 1: Understanding Baltimore’s art scene. Read it here.

Part 2: Developing a strategy around arts and culture investment

In Part 1, we took a quick look at some of the arts and artist-driven activity that is happening in and around one Baltimore neighborhood and the ways that these kinds of activities and artistic practices are shaping the revitalization of neighborhoods across the city. In Part 2 we’ll begin to look at the physical spaces in which this activity is taking place.

As part of my fellowship, I am developing best practices for financing the arts in distressed neighborhoods in ways that build community among both new and existing residents. From the perspective of a community development financial institution such as Reinvestment Fund, this research also seeks to better understand the relationship between art and artists, physical space, and community. To inform this strategy, I have been creating a Baltimore Cultural Space Inventory and conducting interviews with cultural space stakeholders to gather information about what is working, as well as the challenges in operating these spaces.

Cultural spaces in Baltimore vary widely in size, location, usage, formality, audience, and mission. The Cultural Space Inventory is largely focused on Baltimore’s small and informal art spaces that house small arts organizations and alternative or DIY (Do It Yourself) arts organizations. The spaces and the activity they house complement the city’s larger cultural institutions, such as museums and performance centers, together shaping Baltimore’s cultural ecosystem and building more cohesive communities at the neighborhood level.

One way to characterize these spaces is to group them by the three P’s of usage patterns: spaces focused on Production, Presentation, or Participation. Very often, Baltimore’s art spaces combine these uses, such as a building with gallery space on the first floor and working studios in its upper stories, or a flexible space that functions as a gallery on weekends and hosts rehearsals during week nights.

Production spaces include artist studios, rehearsal space, and even small scale and light manufacturing, and their users typically include individual artists and collectives, small manufacturers or makers. Production spaces are usually housed in former industrial spaces, though there are plenty of examples of organizations that have utilized storefront commercial space, or even former residential spaces.

One example of a production space is Baltimore Print Studios, a public access letterpress and silkscreen studio, housed in a former public market.

Baltimore Print Studios, a public access letterpress and silkscreen studio. Photo credit: Baltimore Print Studios

Ash Street Studios a multi-disciplinary in a former auto repair shop that includes fourteen studios, a wood shop and communal library.

Ash Street Studios, houses multi-disciplinary studios, a wood shop and communal library. Photo credit: Ash Street Studios

Six Point Pictures a creative agency specializing in television commercials, and video branding advertisements.

Six Point Pictures a creative agency. Photo credit: Six Point Pictures

Presentation spaces focus on displaying art, such as a gallery, or providing performance space, such as a theater or a music venue. Such spaces see hundreds, and even thousands, of people pass through their doors on an annual basis.

A classic example of a presentation space is Baltimore Theater Project a small theater that presents experimental theatre, music, and dance, and connects Baltimore audiences to a global community of performers.

Galerie Myrtis is an example of an art gallery that represents emerging and mid career artists, hosting approximately six exhibitions a year in addition to various artists talks and workshops.

Galerie Myrtis

Galerie Myrtis, an art gallery. Photo Credit: Bmore Art


Baltimore Theater Project. Photo credit: Baltimore Office of Promotion and Arts

Participation spaces are often a hybrid of studio and gallery or classroom space. These spaces are usually public facing, and offer their audiences a chance to participate in classes and workshops, or otherwise learn about arts and cultural traditions. Participation spaces often function as community hubs, responding to specific neighborhood needs.

Founded in 1912, the Arch Social Club is one of the oldest African American social clubs in the country. The Arch Social Club still offers regular activities, including hand dancing and line dancing classes, dance nights, and concerts featuring various musical acts, typically jazz and blues.

Arch Social Club, one of the oldest African American social clubs in the country. Photo credit: Baltimore Heritage

Jubilee Arts is housed in a three story rowhouse that includes a multipurpose space on its first floor that functions as a  gallery, performance space or rehearsal space depending on the event, as well as classroom and studio space on its upper stories.

Jubilee Arts, multi-purpose arts space. Photo credit: Christopher Metzge

Housed in a former theater, the Creative Alliance is another community space that includes a gallery, theater, and live/work space for artists-in-residence.

Creative Alliance, community space that includes a gallery, theater, and live/work space. Photo credit: Bmore Art

Since October, I have conducted nearly 30 interviews with art space stakeholders and documented more than 125 cultural spaces scattered throughout the city. The number and types of space are constantly in flux; since starting the inventory, a handful of spaces have closed down, and several new spaces have reopened.

Based on these interviews and inventory, a few patterns emerge. First, that a mix of historic commercial and industrial spaces in close proximity are a good “cultural hotspot” indicators (ie Baltimore’s Highlandtown, Charles North and Greenmount West, and Pigtown and Hollins Market, areas respectively, several of which happen to also be state designated arts districts). Second, the community benefit of art spaces varies across spaces, and management. However, it seems that in low-income neighborhoods, participation spaces seem to have the greatest community benefit because they often fill a non-art specific community need, for example, offering art classes as an after school program. Finally, a majority of small arts organizations are renting their space, making them potentially vulnerable to real estate market fluctuations.

With an inventory in place and loaded into PolicyMap, Reinvestment Fund’s Market Value Analysis (MVA) offers further insight into the neighborhoods where these cultural spaces are located. This data, in combination with information from stakeholder research, provides a framework for how to evaluate the market challenges some of these spaces will face, as well as potential financing opportunities and other tools for preserving these spaces.

Data mapped by PolicyMap, an online GIS mapping tool.

Take, for example, two fairly similar production spaces, both of which provide studio spaces of approximately 10,000 square feet in former industrial buildings. One building is located in an area rated MVA Choice, while the other is located in an area rated MVA Distressed. While the space in the MVA Choice area might run the risk of displacement due to rising rental rates, the space in the MVA Distressed area is more likely to face challenges around obtaining property insurance due to high vacancy rates in the surrounding neighborhood.

The ways in which a cultural space is used, and the neighborhood in which it is situated results in an opportunity to have a positive impact on its surround community. However these spaces also face numerous challenges, from the need to update historic buildings with modern systems, to obtaining building insurance, to creeping rental rates. It will take a combination of tools, ranging from policy interventions, technical assistance, and financing to address these challenges, a topic that we will explore in Part 3.

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