A Minnesota-based nonprofit is working with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County toward a housing development where low- and moderate-income artists can live, work and contribute to the community.

Artspace.

That’s the name of the group, as well as its goal on the Gulf Coast.

More than 1,300 artists across the country have found homes in 40 projects from New York to Los Angeles and New Orleans to Seattle. Artspace is a nonprofit real estate developer that owns and operates creative spaces. More affordable housing creates more opportunities for artists to continue working and support themselves.

“They don’t have to worry so much about a second and third job,” says Wendy Holmes, a senior vice president at Artspace. “That makes a huge difference financially. The majority of artists in our spaces make more money than before because they’re living in these spaces.”

The nonprofit organization conducted an online survey for the Arts Alliance that found a need for more than 60 live/work units and 30 studio spaces in Sarasota. Each Artspace development is different, but most include commercial and community space.

“On the physical side, they’re all about tall ceilings, natural light, wide hallways, freight elevators, durable surfaces,” Holmes said. “They almost all have stalls where people can buy art.

“It’s nothing like a regular apartment building. People know almost everyone living there. And we have many, many stories of artists giving back to their communities.”

A community survey is just the first step for an Artspace project, which usually take 3 to 5 years or more to complete. Staff from the nonprofit gauges community support and financial viability of a project. A development team creates a property, often through a mix of historical renovation and new construction. Asset management ensures affordability and long-term financial stability.

In the end, a local selection committee chooses artist-tenants to live and work in a building.

Rents vary from project to project, city to city, but units are made affordable for households earning 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI. In Sarasota County, the AMI is $55,000. Sixty percent of that figure is an annual income of $33,000.

Sarasota already has seen the positive effects of arts neighborhoods, says Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts Alliance.

In the 1990s, the Towles Court community south of downtown became a meeting place of studios, galleries and restaurants. In the last decade, the arts hub of the Rosemary District has helped draw development north of downtown.

“That’s going to continue to grow and develop and add value to the community,” Shirley says. “That’s the kind of flavor it brings to the community.”

An Artspace development along U.S. 41, the Tamiami Trail, could become part of a North Trail revitalization effort that has struggled for decades. More and more, Sarasota is acknowledging and addressing the issue of affordable housing.

“It’s hard for people who are not wealthy to come in and live here,” Shirley says. “And it’s not just artists.”

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