New Momentum to Add Living, Working Space for Asheville Creatives

Feb 2, 2018

What started with a question about the future of a parking structure has led to a dynamic effort to develop affordable spaces in the city for creatives to live and work.

Mike Marcus, assistant director of the Center for Craft in Asheville, gave his version of a common refrain from the area’s artists, musicians and crafters:

 

“Asheville is getting really expensive, we made Asheville cool and now everyone else is profiting from it. We can’t afford to live here, and why won’t the city do something?”

What started with a question from Marcus, about the future of a parking structure next to the center, has led to a dynamic effort with many stakeholders to develop affordable spaces in the city for creatives to live and work.

  

Advocates for artist housing and studio spaces are focusing on a vacant lot along Riverside Drive, just south of The Old Wood Company, for a potential 80-unit mixed-use complex.
Credit Jason Sandford | AshVegas.com with permission

Marcus invited a Minneapolis nonprofit real estate developer called Artspace to study what’s needed here, and what is possible. They’re focusing now on the River Arts District and the ground of the former Ice House on Riverside Drive. There, people are imagining a new building that would house 80 artists, along with potential performance, studio and gallery spaces.

As a step in that direction, Artspace is asking everyone in Asheville’s arts community to take an online survey about their needs, challenges and priorities when it comes to living and working spaces.

Local artists and arts administrators can take these surveys through March 26. You’ll find links to the surveys at keepavlcreative.com. The results will provide concrete numbers to support or counter what to this point is largely anecdotal evidence.

“What Artspace will identify is some of our most pressing needs,” said Tara Scholtz, a senior program officer with the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. “It’s one of those moments where it’s perception/reality. We know what we hear, but we don’t really have values that support it beyond anything more than a hunch.”

There are separate surveys for artists and arts organizations. Artspace will crunch the results before deciding whether to invest more deeply, serve as a project consultant or step away. Some of that will depend on levels of private investment and available tax credits that make this financially feasible for Artspace.

Regardless, the survey is already a win for local advocates. The Center for Craft will own the results and make them available to anyone in the community to build coalitions, raise money and work with other potential developers to address the space needs for local artists.

“We really see this as a catalyst project. Will 80 units solve the issue? No,” Marcus said. “Where we really see the impact being is not in the development itself, but it’s also in the coalescing of the creative sector around a common vision everyone can see themselves in.  

None of this addresses larger policy issues affecting Asheville’s rental stock. Every week, more of the city’s apartments, artists studios and performance spaces are giving way to short-term housing -- this is happening in many cities, and it’s called the AirBnB effect.

Along with pulling existing properties out of the rental market for actual residents, it deepens the challenge to entice private developers to create or renovate spaces for artists who can’t afford market rates.

“Nobody could have predicted AirBnb and nobody can really predict what technology will do,” said Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The creative community is such an important part of Asheville and its brand, and it’s important to those businesses we’re attempting to recruit here and also important to those entrepreneurs we’re trying to establish here,” Cramer said. “We see it as a foundational element for economic development.”

Mike Marcus at the Center for Craft didn’t intend to spearhead the larger issue of affordable housing, but he now hopes other leaders follow suit and step beyond their own visions.

“Having organizations get in front of real community issues that are bigger than themselves is something we need more of,” Marcus said. “It’s a vulnerable position, and one we didn’t entirely understand we were walking into, and we’re really proud of it.”