NAUGATUCK — Developing artist-led community transformations is nothing new for the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Artspace. It is, however, a novel concept for the borough.
That is why Seymour-based architects Joseph Migani and Joan O’Riordan, of O’Riordan Migani Architects, brought in two Artspace representatives last week to review plans to turn the former General DataComm building downtown into an artist-led community project called Art6.
The Art6 plan includes building about 90 studio apartments for working artists on the third and fourth floors of the building at 6 Rubber Ave. The second floor would be for corporate office space, while the first floor is designated for retail space and parking. The project is reliant on state grants, loans and tax breaks.
Artspace is a national nonprofit organization that specializes in artist-led community transformations. Artspace Vice President Roy Close and Consulting Associate Anna Growcott came to the borough for two days last week to discuss the plan, take a look at the building, tour the borough, and meet with officials and local artists.
Close and Growcott discussed what it takes to make an artist-led community transformation successful at a public meeting April 29. They did not speak specifically on the Art6 project — they are expected to issue a report on the feasibility of the plan in the coming months.
Close said Artspace, which was founded in 1979, has done 37 projects around the country, including in Seattle and Bridgeport. The organization currently has four more projects under construction, including one Hawaii and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. In addition to the ones the organization has worked on, Artspace consults on approximately 20 projects a year, he said.
Growcott said projects like Art6 have had positive impacts on the artists and the economy of the community.
“We’ve seen the coffee shops pop up across the street,” Growcott said. “We’ve seen the market rate housing come in on the block.”
Growcott said Artspace commissioned an economic impact study in 2011 that focused on five of the organization’s oldest projects. The study found this type of project utilizes vacant or under-utilized properties and puts them back on the tax rolls, he said. This, in turn, boosts the area’s properties and the neighborhood sees an increase of pedestrians and shops.
Growcott added the projects help the artists by providing a space for collaboration with other artists.
To qualify for the residency in the Art6 project an individual can’t make more than $32,500 a year, while a couple’s income can’t exceed $34,500, at the time they move-in. The rent would be approximately $818, Migani said.
Growcott said this type of project is considered “workforce housing” and is for people who make 30 to 60 percent of the area’s median income. This is different from Section 8 housing, which is for people who make 30 percent or below the area’s median income, he pointed out.
Artist-led community transformations aren’t guaranteed to succeed. Those that have failed have provided important lessons, though.
Close said support from the local politicians in order to obtain grants and making sure there are enough artists in the area to support this type of project are crucial to success. Close said the rule of thumb Artspace uses to determine whether there are enough artists to support a project is to take the number of artists in the area and divide by three.
In order to support the proposed 90-apartment Art6 project there would need to be interest from 270 artists.
While the verdict remains out on the feasibility of the project, there has been a positive reaction from local officials.
“I think this would be great to bring people to all of our small businesses that are downtown,” Burgess Rocky Vitale said.