Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared Wednesday night that the city of Little Rock is “ready to go all-in” to partner with nonprofit developer Artspace to promote arts as an economic generator. Scott’s remarks wrapped up a presentation by the Minneapolis-based developer at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center on the results of a survey of area “creatives” — visual and performing artists and nonprofits — on their needs.
Artspace, brought to Central Arkansas by the Windgate Charitable Foundation, Central Arkansas’s greatest supporter of the arts, develops places for artists to live and work and consults on arts-related space needs. Its consultants have been meeting with artists in focus groups since July 2019. The Little Rock/North Little Rock survey, taken between Sept. 24 and Nov. 5 last year, drew 825 respondents, more than Denver and Northwest Arkansas, Artspace senior vice president Wendy Holmes told the crowd. (The Northwest report can be found here.) The major desire: Shared creative space that artists could rent or pay fees to access. Of the total respondents, 453 indicated that a need for shared space; 241 saw a need for private studio space, 204 for shared performing arts space and 200 for a live/work space. Holmes said Artspace recommends developing arts-focused facilities in historic properties to take advantage of state and federal preservation tax credits.
For the next, predevelopment phase of the project, Holmes encouraged artists to bring more interested parties together and approach private developers. She also asked for developers in the audience to raise their hands. Rett Tucker, with Newmark Knight Frank (and previously Moses-Tucker), raised his about shoulder height. (Tucker’s daughter, Kathryn Tucker, is the founder of the Arkansas Cinema Society.)
Staff at the Arkansas Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, in a question and answer period, noted that they offer studio space for a monthly membership fee and wanted to know how to get that word out.
Artspace makes use of HUD’s Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program for its live/work space developments. A change in federal law allows the funding tool to be used in developments tailored to specific renters, such as artists, which was not the case when the Kramer School Lofts, theoretically as an arts community, were first opened. (That was but a minor reason, however, for the failure of the Kramer development, which had unanticipated high utility and maintenance costs and was undercapitalized.) More than half of the respondents interested in such space would qualify for subsidized housing. Twenty respondents indicated incomes over $85,000, which means there is an opportunity for market-rate development as well. Downtown Little Rock was the top location choice (71 percent); respondents could choose more than one area, however, and both Argenta and Soma drew a 61 percent favorable choice.