News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

This organization creates affordable artist housing nationwide. Could it work in Dallas?

A man sits on an amp in his living room, playing guitar.
Christ Chavez/Special Contributor
/
The Dallas Morning News
Artspace, which develops live-and-work properties for artists all over the country, is eyeing a project in Dallas. Since 1990, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit has created more than 40 affordable artist residences in cities from Seattle to El Paso, where local musician Christopher Ellis, above, lives. An Artspace project in Dallas, advocates say, would be the first of its kind for the city.

Artspace, which has developed more than 40 live-and-work properties for artists around the country, might soon bring a project to West Dallas. Is the city ready for it?

Explore more stories from Arts Access.

EL PASO — In late 2016, El Paso artists Gino Ybarra and Michelle Delgado set about kickstarting a custom toy company. They’d both worked selling crafts at local art markets for years to make ends meet, but they had no place to dedicate to a business besides Ybarra’s sister’s garage.

A few months later, the couple was approved for a unit in the Roderick Artspace Lofts, an affordable housing development in downtown El Paso built by a nonprofit that develops live and work spaces for artists across the country. They now runGhost Fox Toys out of their two-bedroom apartment, which they pay just under $600 a month to rent — around half of the median rent in the area,according to national rental listing site Zumper.

“Once that stress wasn’t there,” said Delgado, “it really opened up the creative juices.”

A family sits in their living room.
Christ Chavez/Special Contributor
/
The Dallas Morning News
Michelle Delgado, 4-year-old Oliver Ybarra and Gino Ybarra at the Artspace Lofts in downtown El Paso, where the parents have lived for five years.

Now,Artspace is eyeing a project in Dallas. Since 1990, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit has created more than 40 affordable artist residences in cities from Seattle to Buffalo to Honolulu. An Artspace project in Dallas, advocates say, would be the first of its kind for the city.

Led by Kelley Lindquist since 1987, Artspace began eight years earlier in Minneapolis as “an advocate” for artists and their needs for space. By the late 1980s, “it was clear that the problem required a more proactive approach,” according to the company, “and Artspace made the leap from advocate to developer.”

Its first “live/work” projects began in St. Paul, Minn. From there, it expanded beyond residential work, refashioning a historic bakery in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District into 24 artist studios in 1995 and growing to operate and develop properties across state lines. With an annual average budget of $20 million, its staff now numbers 70.

Artspace opened its El Paso property in 2016 and one in Galveston in 2001. Both locations are at capacity, with significant waiting lists, say the property managers. The 51-unit El Paso property houses leatherworkers, muralists, florists, musicians and more, many of whom say the space has been a game-changer for their crafts and an overwhelmingly supportive environment.

For muralist Christin Apodaca, moving into Artspace was a chance to live among like-minded individuals. “Being an artist, a lot of your work is done alone,” she said. “So I thought, how cool would it be to be in a space where you’re just surrounded by people doing the same things that you’re doing?”

“With the space here, I can actually rehearse. I used to live in a tiny little two-bedroom apartment where if I made noise, people would have been pretty upset with me,” said Christopher Ellis, a guitarist. “But it’s highly encouraged here, and I love that.”

For Dallas artists such as Andrew Kochie, 42, the lack of stable working and living space is a source of chronic frustration.

“It’s very difficult for visual artists here,” Kochie said, noting that during the most recent Dallas Arts Month in April, “we invited the directors from Artspace to come and give a presentation. We’re looking at the future. We really want to see Artspace.”

Kochie applauds Artspace for “how they manage their projects in so many cities across the nation,” but, as he added with a weary sigh, “We are the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have an Artspace.”

Diana Pollak, executive director of the Creative Arts Center of Dallas, a nonprofit that offers visual arts classes and workshops, said she fields about five calls a month from artists looking for studio space.

“It’s just a real problem in Dallas,” she said. “A lot of people actually do have places to live, but they can’t afford both a studio [and a place to live], so their garage becomes their studio, or their kitchen table becomes their studio, and that’s just not a very sufficient way to work as an artist.”

Plans for West Dallas

Should they come to be, Dallas’ Artspace apartments would be located on theplanned second campus of the Sammons Center for the Arts, an incubator for small performing arts groups that’s been in Dallas for more than three decades. Joanna St. Angelo, executive director of the Sammons Center, said there is a “handshake agreement” with Artspace to develop on planned West Dallas campus — off Stemmons Freeway near Inwood Road — with plans to start formalizing the partnership by the end of the year.

The project would come during a sustained boom of arts and culture investments in Dallas, coinciding withskyrocketing rents that make it difficult for artists to afford to live or work here. Advocates say if the city wants a reputation as an arts destination — and theeconomic benefits that come with it — it needs to do more than open museums or offer grants: It must ensure artists can call Dallas home.

“There’s a universe of resources that is required if we really want to be the kind of city that is known as a mecca for the arts, and we have to do more to grow our own here,” St. Angelo said, pointing to cities like New York and Los Angeles as places where comprehensive support for artists exists. “I think Dallas is on the verge of having that, and this is like the missing piece.”

This isn’t the first time Artspace has considered a project in Dallas. In2012 and 2013, the organization conducted preliminary studies to determine how a project would fare. Even though 73% of the artists surveyed expressed a desire to relocate to an Artspace-style community in Dallas, a project never came to fruition.

“At the time, the right leadership wasn’t in place … from the private and the public sector, to make a project possible,” said Wendy Holmes, the senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace. “You can come back a year later or two years later, and things can be completely different.”

Different they are. There has been a majorexpansion of artistic infrastructure. The AT&T Performing Arts Center and Klyde Warren Park gained footholds. Dallas adopted its sweepingcultural plan in 2018, which, among other recommendations, pointed to a need for more affordable artist spaces.

A crowded audience at the theater.
Kye R. Lee/Staff Photographer
/
The Dallas Morning News
Theater patrons wait before the start of a Thursday night showing of the musical Spring Awakening at the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center on April 1, 2010.

“I would say Dallas is very ripe and prepared for a true Artspace project that would have the kind of support and activity going on where that artist center ... could thrive,” said Lindquist, Artspace’s president. “There has to be a vision that a lot of people are following through on to make something work.”

Soaring costs

As investments in arts and culture in the city have soared, so too have the costs of living. Last October, when the nonprofit consulting firm Social Impact Architects surveyed Dallas artists regarding the Sammons Center’s second campus, 42% said they were in need of affordable housing.

The average asking rent for Dallas-Fort Worth apartments has since set a record high in September of $1,549 a month. However, the pace of growth has been slowing. In September, rent increases rose 13.4% year over year. In May, it was 17.5%.

Earlier this month, RealPage economist Jay Parsons told The News he expects rent increases to moderate in the remaining months of 2022 — “still relatively high but more likely in the mid-single digits.”

“Artists would move into an area, fix it up, make it habitable, and then they get priced out,” said St. Angelo. “It certainly is a critically difficult time, especially for artists. Artists are always at the bottom of the food chain, anyway.”

Attempts to keep or bring affordable artist spaces to the city, in recent years, have foundered. The Continental Gin building in Deep Ellum, one of the last major havens for artists in the region, underwent a two-year redo starting in 2019, and isnow an office and retail building. In 2017, developers of the Flora Lofts in the Arts Districtpromised 43 affordable units for artists, only for the 41-story tower to open in 2021 with only market-rate units.

Unlike Continental Gin, the Flora Lofts units do remain in place, but they range from $1,510 to $5,745 a month. The original rental prices the group behind Flora Lofts pitched to Dallas City Council in 2017 were between $598 and $769. Larger units on the property, now owned by Atelier Apartments, range from $2,700 to $14,885 a month.

A converted warehouse in Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas.
August Real Estate
/
The Dallas Morning News
Art Space 4: Built in 1888, the Continental Gin building east of downtown Dallas has been turned into an office and retail building.

“We know arts and culture, without a doubt, is one of the strongest drivers of economic development,” said Suzanne Smith, an artist consultant in Dallas who founded Social Impact Architects. “The more artists we have per capita, the better.”

In other words, not only is an affordable development like Artspace an investment in Dallas artists, it’s “an investment in the future of the city,” said St. Angelo.

A woman sits at a desk in her apartment.
Christ Chavez/Special Contributor
/
The Dallas Morning News
Jewelry maker Paulina Rosas has lived at the Artspace building in El Paso for six years.

Some residents said El Paso remains a difficult city to earn a living as an artist. Artspace resident Paulina Rosas sells her jewelry at the local farmers market, but few can afford the $140 she charges for some of her clay-and-metal earrings.

Multimedia artist Andrew Joseph was hired to do an art installation in a new building across the street, but he doesn’t expect a similar large-scale project to come along anytime soon.

“It’s kind of a desert out here,” he said.

It is, however, a desert that includes Artspace, which Rosas described as a godsend. When she moved in six years ago, her income, she said, was just under $20,000 a year. But like many Americans, she was — and is — stuck with lingering student loan debt that now hovers in the $30,000 range. She is also not alone in hoping that President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness comes through.

“Something to understand from El Paso in general is that we are a very low-income community,” Rosas said. “And not a lot of opportunities come to artists. Everything, in my opinion, tends to stay low, because we’re neighboring Ciudad Juárez. It’s within walking distance. So, you’re having to compete with a market that is foreign and very cheap. And so pay is very low. Income is very low.”

A 2016 graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, she has lived in Artspace since it opened. The best thing about living there? “It helps you start,” she said. “And that is the hardest part.”

Art Space 6.jpg
Christ Chavez/Special Contributor
/
The Dallas Morning News.
Artspace, which develops live-and-work properties for artists all over the country, like this one in El Paso. It is eyeing a project in Dallas. Since 1990, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit has created more than 40 affordable artist residences in cities from Seattle to Buffalo to Honolulu. An Artspace project in Dallas, advocates say, would be the first of its kind for the city.

Hopes are high

The goal of the Dallas Artspace project, St. Angelo said, is to try to mitigate the struggles with opportunity and exposure. The plans for the Sammons Center’s second campus include many artistic resources onsite to support the Artspace community, like a black box theater and a larger incubator space.

“If artists have no place to perform or exhibit, then that’s a problem. And if you have great places for that, but the artists can’t afford to live there — so it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg,” said St. Angelo.

Though hopes are high that an Artspace development is on the horizon, it won’t be cheap to get there. To fund its projects, Artspace often uses low-income housing tax credits — residents typically have to earn anywhere from 30 to 80% of the area’s median income — in addition to philanthropy. Holmes, the Artspace executive, anticipates the Dallas project costing between $30 million and $50 million to develop, but said this figure is made less daunting by the established connections the Sammons Center has in the community.

“Going in with a partner like that makes all the difference in the world,” she said.

A red brick building
Photo credit: File/DMN Staff
/
The Dallas Morning News
The Sammons Center for the Arts' existing building. “If artists have no place to perform or exhibit, then that’s a problem. And if you have great places for that, but the artists can’t afford to live there — so it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg,” said executive director Joanna St. Angelo.

Another major hurdle in Dallas may be the location of the development. When Artspace surveyed artists in 2013, West Dallas, where the potential project would be located, clocked in at 18.3% interest. Though sites like Deep Ellum or the Bishop Arts District were more popular, St. Angelo said the intention for the new campus is to expand arts facilities beyond the urban center.

“They were able to expand the arts district and create more of a locus for arts activity,” she said. “Now, I think our challenge is to widen that locus so that the whole of the city is benefiting from the involvement of artists.”

The next step is for Artspace officials to return to Dallas to meet with the Sammons Center, which St. Angelo said she hopes will happen in the next several months. In the meantime, visions of Dallas becoming “a mecca for the arts,” as St. Angelo put it, inch toward reality.

“We’ve got a good hand when it comes to arts and culture, but we need a full house,” said Smith, the artist consultant. “This gives us the full house that allows Dallas to say to an artist, ‘We’ve got everything you need.’”

Michael Granberry contributed to this report.

Did you know that what you just read was asolutions journalism story? It didn’t just examine a problem; it scrutinized a response. By presenting evidence of who is making progress, we remove any excuse that a problem is intractable.

This story, supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, is part of Arts Access, a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity. This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.