EDDDA approves contract for artists’ space

Artspace to begin search for building to house artists

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Artists looking for a place to live and practice their craft may soon have a home in Dearborn.

During an East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority Meeting Jan. 12, board members approved a contract with Artspace Projects Inc. to convert a suitable building into a live-work space for artists in an effort to bring more tourism and exposure to the city.

The to-be-selected building will be the first Artspace location in Michigan. Artspace, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization created to help artists find viable locations to live and work, has previously established artist communities in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Chicago.

“We think that having a community of artists in Dearborn would be complimentary to the community,” Artspace Senior Vice President of Consulting Wendy Holmes said.

The agreement continues a six-step process that began nearly two years ago and could take an additional three to five years to complete.

The first two steps, determining the preliminary feasibility of an area and an artist market survey, were finished in January 2010.

The next step is predevelopment, which involves working with the EDDDA and and their partners to determine a feasible location and project scope, which could take four to nine months at a cost of $150,000.

Artspace is to scout possible locations in the city in late January and early February.

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr., who sits on the EDDDA board, said he had interest in an arts community in Dearborn since the 1980s.

He began looking at ways to increase visitor traffic to the city since becoming mayor in 2006. A viable artist community in Dearborn, he said, could help drive tourism to The Henry Ford, which sees about 1.8 million in-state visitors.

He said many visitors to the museum or the village don’t stay in the city after leaving, and he would like to keep them shopping and spending here.

“If we had 10 percent of (the visitors) coming into the Artspace exhibit,” he said, “that would be a huge increase in potential customer base.”

O’Reilly said the city will benefit from the potential artist community.

“Dearborn’s future can’t just be tied to what it’s been in the past,” he said. “We have to evolve.”

EDDDA Executive Director Michael Bewick said $300,000 of the total estimated $750,000 cost of the contract secured by the EDDDA’s partner in the project, the Dearborn Community Fund, was provided by two $150,000 grants from the Ford Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

Organizers have been applying for other grants to cover the remaining costs, Bewick said. An application for a grant from ArtPlace, a collaboration between federal agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts, has been applied for, however, the EDDDA was not selected to move forward in the grant process.

EDDDA Chairman John Morgan Jr. said on Dec. 20, members of Artspace looked at some of the proposed sites, which require various amenities such as high ceilings and natural light, depending on the artists’ needs.

Morgan said he is looking forward to seeing Artspace develop in the city and said the incoming artists will be viable members of the community. He said after moving into an area, artists tend to draw more people in who are interested in artistic culture.

“There’s a synergy when they move into a community,” he said. “A lot of times when they come in to a district, they start to revitalize it.”

Morgan said work on securing the remaining funding will take time because of the nation’s difficult financial situation. He said the key is making sure the proposed concept is unique enough to be funded.

“There’s so many more people going after the same amount of dollars,” he said, “And there’s only so many dollars to have.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com)