Petersburg Could Be Home of Major Artist Living, Working Space

By Leah Small, The Progress-Index

PETERSBURG — The city could soon be home to a creative hub where artists can craft and sell works in their own homes — which stakeholders hope would spur economic development.

The Cameron Foundation, the nonprofit Artspace and the city presented the results of a survey on Thursday to local stakeholders gathered at the Petersburg Area Art League, that looked into whether such a place was possible locally.

The survey considered whether Richmond or Petersburg could support affordable artist living and work spaces. The Artspace Market survey, conducted by Artspace Projects, also examined the feasibility of affordable operating spaces for art organizations. Artspace Projects is a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that focuses on finding these affordable spaces.

J. Todd Graham, Cameron Foundation president, said that the study determined the local art world’s love of Petersburg to be great enough to look into building a creative haven in the first two floors of the Perry Street building.

The property, which features 60,000 square feet of commercial space on its first two floors and market rate apartments on its third and fourth floors, is the last building in the Brown & Williamson complex to be revitalized. The complex is located between Perry, Brown and Wythe Streets and represents a $100 million investment.

Graham said that Cameron is willing to spend up to $70,000 to study the feasibility of the property being used for artist live and work spaces, or operating spaces for art organizations.

“We are not promising anything but we are investing the time and effort to see if this will work,” he said.

The unveiling of the plan comes nearly a week after the opening of the Ward Center for Contemporary Art, just a stroll away on North Sycamore Street. The center features a 7,500 square-foot main gallery, 18 private studios where artists can sell their work and 55 work studios.

Graham said that regardless of where the project lays its claim, it will promote arts in the city.

“We see it as a way to retain existing creative individuals in Petersburg by creating space that meets their needs,” he said.

The Artspace Market survey, which was the start of searching for the ultimate space to create, began last summer. Half of the $40,000 survey was funded by Richmond, while Petersburg and Cameron each funded 25 percent. The Richmond-based nonprofit Culture Works also partnered to conduct the survey.

If the Perry Building is chosen, Graham said that Cameron, the city and Artspace Projects would work together to leverage the funding for what could potentially be a $9-10 million project. He said that low income and historic tax credits could be used.

The search of a space in Richmond is also ongoing, and Artspace representatives said that a lot of focus has been in the downtown arts district along Broad Street.

Over 700 artists, arts organizations, and creative sector businesses from the Richmond and Tri-Cities area participated in the survey.

According to the results, 260 artists stated that they would be interested in relocating to a living and working space in Petersburg or Richmond. Also, 271 said that they would be interested in leasing a work-only studio with a year lease in Petersburg or Richmond. Of the respondents, 221 stated that they would be interested in occasionally renting work-only studio space in Petersburg or Richmond.

When asked where they would rather move, 105 of the artists said Petersburg, 201 said Richmond and 46 said either.

To ensure that there aren’t more units than needed, Artspace said that it identifies at least three interested respondents for each living and working space. This means that Richmond would support up to 52 spaces and Petersburg would support up to 20. Based on the 46 respondents who said that they were interested in both cities, an additional 15 units could be considered.

The types of artists most interested in the spaces in order of greatest response include painters, musicians and writers.

Artspace representatives said that rent would be capped at 60 percent of the area median income, with rates not lower than 30 percent of the area median income.

Representatives of 105 organizations and businesses completed the survey. Of these respondents, 70 stated that they were interested in using space in a new multi-use arts facility in Petersburg and or Richmond. Also, 59 stated that they are interested in relocation and 51 are interested in renting space on a short-term or occasional basis.

Of the 59 interested in relocation, 43 were said that they would move to Richmond, 24 were interested in Petersburg and eight were interested in both cities.

The full survey is available online at Pictures from the event can be found here.