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Why new ‘creative space’ compounds are popping up everywhere

Austin artists need more affordable space, survey finds

Contemporary one-story building, exterior of art studio, bench in front
Big Medium space at Canopy
Canopy/Facebook

Anyone keeping an eye on Austin development has probably noticed the trend: New ‘creative studio’ builds seem to be popping up with increasing frequency. This is especially true for areas of East and Far South Austin, where once-industrial areas and long-vacant lots are being redeveloped into this particular kind of mixed-use compound.

Canopy, by Michael Hsu Architecture, developed in the Govalle neighborhood after artists and other creative types had slowly occupied some of the unused warehouses and other buildings in the area (call it the first wave of gentrification, although that might get some angry responses). Nearby Springdale General, also by Hsu, is a larger version of the studio-centric Canopy that has spaces roomy enough for small-scale fabrication or other artisanal activities. Bercy Chen’s Shady Lane Creative Studios will also join the neighborhood, and The Yard at St. Elmo, by Thoughtbarn/Delineate Studios, is a similar enterprise in South Austin. The Next Door Studios project is well underway in Central East Austin, and Pollen Architecture, that project’s designer/builder, plans something similar with South Austin’s Crow Lane Creative Studios.

Courtesy of City of Austin Cultural Arts Division

The trend is clear—and it’s not just about branding. The results of the city’s 2017 creative space survey (conducted by the economic development department and just released) puts the numbers behind what most of know: Austin is sorely lacking in affordable work spaces suitable for artists.

The survey was issued shortly after the city released its recommendations for stabilizing the local music and art “ecosystem” and implemented its Art Space Assistance Program, a pilot program for distributing city grant money to local arts nonprofits and $200,000 in one-time funding available for the Music Venue Assistance Program (grantees had to agree to a variety of commitments, depending on the program, and grants were to be spent on rent or tenant improvements only).

According to the survey, a surprising 81 percent of artists responded that that their ideal workspaces would 500 square feet or smaller; 47 percent of organizations and businesses indicated their ideal space would measure 1,000 to 5,000 square feet, but 51 percent also responded that their current spaces are too small.

Cost issues are prominent as well: 38% of respondents indicated they have paid for space they could not afford, and 69% used a space they identified as not being ideal for their needs. Smaller but significant percentages of respondents indicated they are in precarious rental situations or do not have a space to work in; a whopping 42% responded that they have considered leaving Austin for another city or state.

While the private market is responding to the need by building more creative-friendly spaces (and some—notably Springdale General—try to keep costs down so that rents have a shot of being affordable), it’s clear more needs to be done in the public sector—a situation the report acknowledges. The city’s Cultural Arts Division and related departments will continue to issue the survey annually “in effort to understand how best to promote and incentivize the development of specific creative spaces and to track changes in the affordability of Austin’s creative spaces over time,” according to the report.