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Artspace Survey Says Fort Collins Needs Affordable Artist Housing; Now What?

Jason Melancon/Edgelight Photo Courtesy of Artspace
Loveland's 18-unit Artspace Art Campus opened in 2015.

Officials with the national nonprofit Artspace say there is a substantial need for affordable housing and studio space for Fort Collins artists.

But what the next step is -- that’s unknown.

At a packed meeting Monday night, the program released its final report including the results of two community surveys. In it, Artspace noted that Fort Collins could benefit from up to 90 new units, including integrated live/work spaces.

Now that the study -- commissioned by the City of Fort Collins, the Downtown Development Authority and the Bohemian Foundation -- is complete, it’s up to city officials and the Fort Collins community to decide whether or not to act.

After the survey was unveiled, Fort Collins painter Amelia Caruso said she wished representatives from the survey’s sponsors would have also spoken at the event so that artists knew more about next steps.

“I think that the city has a tendency over the years to be involved in some of this information gathering, and we, as a community get our hopes up, and the ball always has a tendency of getting dropped,” Caruso said.

But the responsibility for moving this issue forward isn’t just on public officials, she said.

“Artists have a tendency of working individually on our work and so we don’t have, as our first forethought, (the idea) to work as a collective,” Caruso said. “And so, I think that, for us, is the biggest hurdle [...] And after all these years of being let down, I think the one thing that we can gain from it is, that if we work as a community together, that things do happen. They may happen slowly for us, but they do start to move in the right direction.”

Teri Deaver, who presented the survey results, said she understood the audience's desire to see progress.

“They want to see that map and unfortunately, real estate development is not a linear process,” said Deaver, Artspace’s vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships. “It’s always different. There’s no one way that these things happen.”

According to Deaver, a typical Artspace project takes anywhere from three to five years from start to finish. The program was first commissioned to look at Fort Collins in 2016.

Fort Collins would not be Artspace’s first foray into Colorado. In 2015, the Minneapolis-based program helped establish an 30-unit site in Loveland. It’s also working with the state’s Space to Create initiative to bring mixed-use sites for artists to nine rural communities.

“Colorado’s been really unique for us,” Deaver said. “There’s a ton of creative people in Colorado. I think there’s a ton of innovative thinkers in Colorado about how do we make this happen, a real entrepreneurial spirit, which is both being recognized by the cities and by the state.”

Fort Collins features a lot of those qualities, said Peggy Lyle with the Downtown Fort Collins Creative District. But that could be to its detriment.

“Fort Collins is a multitasking community -- it’s very much a start-up community with lots of good ideas -- which actually may be one of the things that we’ll have a hard time doing, focusing on just one project,” Lyle said. “We want to cover all the bases, all the time. And I think we’ll need to really focus in if this is something that we want to have.”

That means analyzing the data and listening to what people want and what the community can realistically provide, she said. As well as fully utilizing what it already has.

“I think it’s up to us -- as much as that’s a hard thing for us to hear -- it’s up to us to determine what our future is and if Artspace can be a part of it,” Lyle said.

Artspace Fort Collins Market Study Highlights

Artspace completed two surveys, one focused on individual artists (553 respondents) and one for arts/music/cultural organizations and creative businesses (72 respondents). To see the full report, click here.

• The Fort Collins market could support between 70 to 90 units of affordable artist housing/studio space.

• Music and performing arts are strong focuses for artists interested in new spaces in Fort Collins (41 percent of those interested in housing and 36 percent of those interested in private studio space are focused on music).

• 60 percent of the artists interested in housing are also among the broader low-income population in search of affordable housing options. Approximately half earn less than 50 percent of their income from their art, so many can likely be counted among the local workforce population.

• New affordable housing will serve artists of all ages, but young artists (age 40 and younger)

will be particularly interested. This provides an opportunity to help retain emerging artists and graduating students in the community by offering a stable housing environment.

• The community should consider developing an incubator/shared space model for small creative businesses and arts and cultural organizations including: conference/meeting rooms, event space and classrooms.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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