Innovative Housing: Nurturing Artists and Neighborhoods

“Kansas City is now being proactive. We want to encourage the creative community to go where they want to go, and support that creative community so they can stay and be anchored and grow.”
— Gary Sage, Research and Policy Officer, EDC

All too often, artists who breathe life back into comatose old neighborhoods are forced out when the revival spawns high rents. Some Kansas City artists have fallen victim to this cycle in the Crossroads and West Bottoms.

Kansas City is working on several fronts to solve this problem, such as:

  • A 15-year extension of tax abatement for Crossroads properties occupied by artists or arts activities was approved by the city’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority in December.
  • City Hall and the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) of Kansas City are poised to act on the findings of a survey, expected to come out in May, that will gauge the space needs and preferences of artists and other creative individuals.
  • Plans are underway for Pendleton ArtsBlock, in the city’s historic Old Northeast area, that will include affordable residential units and work spaces geared toward artists.

“What’s being recognized across the country is the organic nature of artists and their sweat equity in making improvements in the neighborhood,” said Gary Sage, the EDC’s research and policy officer. “Kansas City is now being proactive. We want to encourage the creative community to go where they want to go, and support that creative community so they can stay and be anchored and grow.”

An online survey was conducted on behalf of the city and EDC by Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops projects to create affordable, appropriate places where artists can live and work. The survey was aimed at not only visual artists and musical performers but at creative professionals such as architects, designers and culinary artists, as well as arts organizations.

More than 500 individual artists and more than 100 arts organizations responded to the survey, Sage said.

Artists who took the survey were asked about topics such as their art/creative work, current work/studio space, current living situation, interest in a project, and preferences and needs for live/work and studio/creative work space.

“There are artists in every community,” said Teri Deaver, Artspace vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships. “Sometimes they are recognized as artists and sometimes they aren’t. But they are creating amazing works. They are part of our economy. But they’re often struggling with the ability to find the kinds of spaces that work for them.”

Deaver said numbers from the survey were still being crunched when this column went to press. Based on the results, Artspace may decide to pursue a development in Kansas City.

Megan Crigger, director of creative services in Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services, said, “There’s no preconceived idea yet of where the development will happen. The artists and creatives who responded, if they have a particular interest in being in a neighborhood or want to stay in a neighborhood, that will help inform the site selection.”

Cathleen Flournoy, the EDC’s business and development services specialist, said Artspace projects in other cities have made a big impact. “If a building is redeveloped in an area that’s struggling, that will in turn assist the community as a whole in redevelopment,” she said.

Whatever development that results from the Artspace survey will join a growing movement to provide affordable living and working space to Kansas City artists.  For example, Illinois-based Brinshore Development plans to break ground this fall on Pendleton ArtsBlock, a 38-unit project slated for the Pendleton Heights neighborhood in Old Northeast Kansas City. The architect will be DRAW Architecture + Urban Design.

Todd Lieberman, a Brinshore senior vice president who heads the company’s Kansas City office, said the $8.1 million development will include units geared toward artist living spaces. Plans call for artist work spaces and retail spaces on the ground floor.

Scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018, Pendleton ArtsBlock is one of several projects Brinshore is developing in the Paseo Gateway area.

“Pendleton ArtsBlock is responding to what’s already happening in the marketplace,” Lieberman said. “Artists are choosing to move into Pendleton Heights and the historic Northeast because of the excellent housing stock and housing that’s at more attractive rental rates than in other areas where they’re being priced out.”

Brinshore is talking to the Charlotte Street Foundation, which provides a wide variety of support to Kansas City area artists, about possible opportunities for artist entrepreneurs at Pendleton ArtsBlock.

Pendleton ArtsBlock will follow concepts that led to the creation of Brinshore’s Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative in Chicago, which opened in 2014 in cooperation with artist Theaster Gates. Gates is the founder and artist director of the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit focused on arts-oriented redevelopment and affordable spaces. Dorchester has earned several awards, including the 2015 Urban Land Institute’s Vision Award for Arts and Community.

Can that kind of success be replicated in Kansas City? Stay tuned.

Above: Rendering by DRAW Architecture + Urban Design of the Pendleton ArtsBlock, a 38-unit project slated for the Pendleton Heights neighborhood in Old Northeast Kansas City. Credit: Draw Architecture + Urban Design

About The Author: Julius Karash

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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