As someone who has earned his living from art for the past 25 years, Xavier Jones knows how much the Augusta arts community would appreciate affordable live-and-work space.
“This would be a major draw for any city in the U.S., much less Augusta,” he said.
Jones was at a community meeting in downtown Augusta for nonprofit real estate developer Artspace on Wednesday night and said the concept of affordable artists’ space in Augusta sounds too good to be true, but he is willing to do what he can to make it happen.
“I think the real question will come down to, how serious is the city about it?” he said. “I’m certainly going to ring the bell for this every chance I get.”
Artspace, based in Minneapolis, works to assist development projects, asset management activities, consulting services, and community-building activities that serve artists and arts organizations across the U.S.
The organization is visiting Augusta by invitation of the city to explore the possibility of developing affordable space for artists to work and live.
While in Augusta, Artspace representatives toured potential locations and spoke with people from local groups ranging from bankers to artists.
Wednesday night’s meeting was heavily attended by members of the local arts community, who gave positive feedback, but were not optimistic, about the idea.
Wendy Holmes, a senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships, presented an overview of existing Artspace projects.
In Fergus Falls, Minn., the Kaddatz Artist Lofts converted a historic hotel into 10 housing units, 6,000 square feet of commercial space and an art gallery.
For a live-and-work space, low-income housing tax credits are used to fund the project. For all Artspace projects, government funding makes up about 80 percent of the total cost. The most important factor in getting a project started, she said, is enthusiasm and excitement.
“If you really want it to happen, a way will be found,” she said.
After their two-day trip to Augusta, Holmes and her colleague Joe Butler will put together a recommendation and findings report for Augusta city officials to review. At that point, she said, many conversations are necessary before anything begins.
“It’s not a short process,” she said.
Hooman Haghbin is a visual artist who has lived in Augusta for the past 10 years. He said that the local arts community has not seen a lot of support, and a project like this will be daunting to get off the ground.
“I think it’s overdue,” he said. “This is a step, and I think with the right support there’s a good possibility this will happen.”
Affordable space and community living for artists could potentially draw artists to move to the Augusta area, he said, not only helping local artists but growing the community in general.
“Maybe it will be like, if we build it they will come,” Haghbin said.