Mesa Artspace Study

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There’s a new survey out on the Mesa Artspace project, which would provide affordable spaces for Phoenix-area artists and creative businesses. Cindy Ornstein, director of the Mesa Arts and Culture Department and Executive Director of the Mesa Arts Center, and Mesa City Council member Terry Benelli, will discuss the results of the survey and the Mesa Artspace project.

Ted Simons: A new survey looks at the demand and availability of affordable art spaces in Mesa. Here to discuss the survey is Cindy Ornstein, executive director of the Mesa Art Center and director of the Mesa Arts and Culture Department. Also joining us is Mesa city councilwoman Terry Benelli. Good to see you both. Thanks for being here.

Cindy Ornstein: Thank you for having us.

Ted Simons: The Mesa Artspace project. What are we talking about?

Cindy Ornstein: We are talking about a collaboration of several Mesa organizations with the city and, most importantly, with Artspace, a nonprofit out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, that has developed spaces for creative businesses and artists across the country, but they have never done one in Arizona.

Ted Simons: And this is, again, a look for affordable art spaces, not only for artists but for businesses, correct?

Terry Benelli: It sure is. The project would potentially consist of 50 to 60 apartments for artists that would basically have a rent cap so that the apartments would be affordable for about 15 years. The bottom floor of the project, because it would likely be a multistory project, would be for creative businesses.

Ted Simons: Now, again, this is -- it sounds a little public, a little bit private here. What is the dynamic there?

Cindy Ornstein: Art space is a nonprofit, and in the predevelopment phase, the city of Mesa is a partner in trying to make sure that we have everything -- all of our ducks in a row to be able to do this project. After that, it is managed or it is constructed, managed and run by the Artspace organization. So it's a private nonprofit organization that is running it. But there are things like tax credits, etc. that play into making it an affordable project. And these are not just living spaces for artists; they're live/work spaces. So there are studio spaces in them as well.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the survey now. What did the survey exactly look at?

Terry Benelli: So the survey looked at the interest in artists that we would have coming to Mesa to live in the project. It also looked for creative arts businesses and art organizations to see if they would be interested in renting space inside the project.

Ted Simons: And what did you find?

Terry Benelli: An overwhelming response, over 600 artists that were interested in moving to Mesa and living in the project, and over 100 art organizations that were interested in the project and said that they would love to have more information going forward.

Ted Simons: That kind of response surprise you at all?

Cindy Ornstein: Well, we were expecting a good response, but we're pleased that it was many multiples of the amounts that were necessary to make -- to give a green light to the project. So we're really happy that we got the response that we did, and not just from artists in Mesa. We surveyed across the valley, and it was collaborative. We worked with many other cities in the valley to be sure we could get information valley-wide and we are sharing the results with those cities and hope lots of similar projects pop up across the valley.

Ted Simons: Demand for art space. Let's go to downtown Mesa, where things--if they are not happening right now, will be happening soon with light rail. Demand for art space down there. What are you finding out?

Cindy Ornstein: We are finding out that people are excited about what is happening in Mesa. They are interested in being near the arts center. They are interested in being in a community of artists, and I think a lot of people do feel there is quite a buzz about Mesa as a place for creativity and innovation. So, we're really gratified that they want to come and be part of that community.

Ted Simons: From the council's point of view, how do you take that buzz, if it is out there, and say we have something going on here in downtown Mesa, again, with a survey like this, how does a politician and public policy -- public policy folks, how do you put that in practice?

Terry Benelli: I think our goal is to make this happen and make it be the smoothest process possible for the developer. We know that the community is -- values the arts in Mesa. It's our arts and cultural district for the city. We just want to tap into that excitement.

Ted Simons: As far as design elements, as far as building features, what did the survey tell you?

Cindy Ornstein: Well, we know there are certain things that artists want. I think the biggest thing was people wanted natural light. I believe they wanted high ceilings and open space that they could design for themselves. I'm trying to remember a -- a couple of the other requirements.

Terry Benelli: One of the other things that they look at is the size spaces that they need. Many of the projects have studio apartments up to three bedroom apartments, and I think the returns that we got were more for single or maybe two people living in the apartment, more so than families. But that changes as artists grow up and have families and artists can stay in these projects for their entire life. They could move in in the studio and move up to a three bedroom with children and move back down if they're still income qualified.

Ted Simons: Interesting. How was this particular survey conducted?

Terry Benelli: So, it was online and also done in person. Neighborhood economic development corporation had one person that was kind of their job for two months was to go out and go to art events and go to art organizations, go to classes at ASU, anywhere where there was a gathering of artists, we were at getting information from the survey. NEDCO also does an art entrepreneur program, and we had help from the art entrepreneurs that we trained over the years to help with the art scene in Mesa.

Cindy Ornstein: I remember something else that people said they wanted that I think is important. They wanted shared community space and shared gallery space. That is a feature of most Artspace projects. The artists really enjoy being part of a community of artists and being able to have an impact on the community. Things like open studio tours and community galleries, and, in fact, it is very common for coffee shops to pop up in these developments.

Ted Simons: Oh, sure, oh, sure. Has this kind of survey been conducted before in Mesa, in Arizona, and if so, how does this compare to the results?

Cindy Ornstein: No, it has not been done in Arizona before. It is the same survey that Artspace has used in other communities. They have a requirement for three to one to redundancy, meaning whatever number they think they need for the project, they have to have at least three times the number saying they're interested and they exceeded that. So that went beautifully. Apparently, it is better than this has been in some other markets.

Ted Simons: From a public policy, and again from the council standpoint, you have business interests. You want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck for your property, especially downtown Mesa with the investment in light rail. Is everyone on board with this or are some forks saying it is nice to have nonprofits down there with artists, but we need businesses. We need some kind of more firm or traditional kind of a business?

Terry Benelli: You know what, Ted? I have to tell you, the first time I met the administrators from Artspace doing a pre-feasibility study, I had a meeting with businesses along Main Street, and they had just come from the mayor and their council. They said for the first time in their history that they had walked into a room and everybody was on the same page. The council and the mayor had all seen art space projects across the country and they were ready to go. So full support.

Cindy Ornstein: And I think it is important to mention that art space projects typically bring a lot of other businesses into the areas where they develop and, in addition, they don't just serve nonprofits. They have creative businesses like videographers, graphic design firms that actually work in their spaces. So you are bringing additional businesses into the community as well.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, last question. Where do we go from here?

Terry Benelli: We hire architects and we go for tax credits next April.

Cindy Ornstein: And we're working to raise the money to do all of that predevelopment work, the design and everything.

Ted Simons: Alright, well, congratulations. It sounds like things are happening in downtown Mesa, all over Mesa, I guess, and I'm sure artists are very pleased to hear what you both discussed tonight. Good to have you here.

Terry Benelli: Thanks, Ted.

Cindy Ornstein:Director and Executive Director, Mesa Arts and Culture Department and Mesa Arts Center; Terry Benelli:Council Member, City of Mesa;

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