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Creative Space

Arts organization to create up to 70 apartments for Memphis artists.

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Painter Mary Long-Postal needs a little space.

She currently shares living and studio space with her photographer husband Jonathan Postal, and between the two of them, things are getting cramped.

"The amount of space we have now is prohibitive for bringing our clients over, and now Jonathan's doing woodworking and sculpture on top of his photography projects," Long-Postal said. "I've thought about getting duplexes next to each other, but that would be prohibitively expensive."

Instead, Long-Postal may wait until ArtSpace, a national nonprofit real estate developer for the arts, develops live and work units for artists in downtown Memphis. ArtSpace's study of local housing and studio needs, released last week, justifies up to 70 affordable spaces for artists in a yet-to-be-determined downtown building.

"We're down to two or three possible sites in the South Main area," said Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Minneapolis-based ArtSpace. "Now we're working with our in-house architect to figure out how many spaces we can fit in the building."

In late 2010, with funding support from the city of Memphis, ArtSpace collected data on local artists through an online survey. The survey looked at the demand for housing and work space, their preferred design, and what types of artists would be willing to move in.

"Over 200 people said they would move in right away if the units were in the price range they're looking for," said Kerry Hayes, special assistant to Memphis mayor A C Wharton. "That tells ArtSpace they can justify 70 units, because for every unit they build, they want at least three people waiting in line."

Hayes said ArtSpace likely will recommend that 50 of the units be used as combined living and studio space and the other 20 as studio space for rent. The building should be ready in two to three years.

The majority of survey responses came from visual artists under the age of 30, most of whom were white and male.

"That says to me that we need to do a better job making sure this project is marketed to the African-American community," Hayes said.

Hayes also was surprised by the higher-than-expected response by video and film artists, which he said might justify ArtSpace creating a communal screening room within the building.

Because ArtSpace uses low-income tax credits for their projects, which they've successfully completed in Houston, Portland, Chicago, and other cities, artists qualify for the units based on income.

More than half of those who indicated an interest in live/work space have household incomes that fall at or below 60 percent of the local median income, a requirement for moving in. Thirty-seven percent had household incomes of less than $25,000 per year.

"I don't have a spouse with a steady job. He's working part-time," said Long-Postal, who makes her income through art sales and hosting painting workshops. "We're the real starving artists."

To ensure that future residents in ArtSpace's units are working artists, a committee of local artists will evaluate potential tenants on a case-by-case basis.

"In larger cities, we're afraid that there will be people who are just trying to get into the building because the rent is so low," Holmes said. "I don't think that will be a problem in Memphis, but that's why we have the local artists making the decision. They can tell who is authentic."

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