I watched as the son of a writer and an actor shoveled dirt at the groundbreaking of Memphis’ first affordable housing development for artists. For this six year old, the joy in being there was that he could freely do what he loved to do (play in the dirt) without criticism or judgment. In fact, he was encouraged to explore his creativity and provided with the tools to help in the process: project manager Alyssa Kelley gave him a bucket, shovel and the green light to do what he inherently enjoys doing at this point in his life. On a larger scale, Alyssa and the team at Artspace are replicating this idea for adult artists by providing two of the most important necessities for continued creative growth- an affordable place to live and an encouraging environment in which to work.
One of the biggest stressors that artists face is figuring out how to maintain stability while cultivating their craft without compromising their gifts. Many inevitably walk away because the constant strain of making ends meet in excessively priced (but, ironically, art-focused) markets becomes too much to bear. It is a very real catch-22 that my husband and I experienced when we lived in Los Angeles: we knew the potential results if we could just stick with it, but how could we continue to stick with it when our minds were consumed with staying afloat, which in turn stifled the very creativity we were there to build upon? Each time our rent payment devoured all but ten dollars of our paychecks I wished that there was something else we loved to do more than the art forms we were both pursuing. Every time I sat sobbing on the living room floor because a job didn’t come through for one or both of us and I was counting down the days to a possible eviction notice, I prayed that we could just walk away from it all and go get a “real job” in Anytown, U.S.A. For us and many of our friends who are (and were) artists, finding and keeping an affordable place to live was one of the most crucial pieces to finding peace in pursuit of the unconventional- the artist’s way. For over thirty years, Minneapolis-based Artspace has been helping with this crucial piece. Now Memphis-based artists will benefit from this company that began breaking barriers with the question, “how (could we) relocate artists who were being displaced by gentrification?…individuals low in income but rich in creativity, entrepreneurialism, and resilience.”
Heidi Zimmer, Senior Vice President of Property Development for Artspace, spoke briefly on some of the challenges that were endured in bringing the South Main Artspace Lofts to fruition. Over the course of six years funding was negotiated and renegotiated, deadlines arose and were extended, blueprints were created and revised. Those involved understood the potential rewards if the project materialized as planned and the potential repercussions if it did not. The evolution of this project was in fact very much like the evolution of an artist’s work and the payoff is now tangibly, thankfully, within reach.
“To be, or not to be…”
For those involved with this newest Artspace project, there was no Plan B; there was only a pull-no-punches approach to ensuring that those who inspire us through their written, painted, sculpted, drawn, photographed and performed works of art will have a live/work space in the heart of Downtown Memphis giving them the freedom to just be.