Nonprofit Artspace to consider affordable artist-oriented development in Washtenaw County

National nonprofit arts developer Artspace will visit Washtenaw County this month to assess the feasibility of a new artist-oriented affordable development here. 

The Minneapolis-based nonprofit will host a public virtual open house on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. to hear more about the local art community's priorities and direct needs.

Since its inception over 30 years ago, Artspace has developed 58 properties designed to support community art and artists through live/work artist housing, studios, art centers, and arts-friendly businesses. Those include Dearborn's City Hall Artspace Lofts, a mixed-use arts campus that provides affordable housing and studio space to community members.

Artspace Director of Consulting Aneesha Marwah says Artspace typically only begins exploring options within a new community upon a direct invitation from a local organization or initiative. In this case, the invitation came from the Ann Arbor-based Song Foundation

"We really want to make sure that it comes from the grassroots sector," Marwah says. "It's really based on if there's a local groundswell that wants us to come in."

That mindset is also why Artspace puts so much time into learning more about a community and its needs before going to work on a development. In addition to the virtual open house, Marwah and Artspace VP of Consulting Wendy Holmes will also conduct virtual focus groups, talk to individual artists, and view potential sites in the area. 

"We'll be there to understand the space needs of artists: What exists? What doesn't? What are the economic considerations? What are the different arts disciplines? And what are some of the unique art forms of the region?" Marwah says.

Marwah and Holmes are also in contact with a number of local arts and housing organizations including Avalon Housing, which Marwah names as a potential future collaborator.

"We talked about doing some technical consulting work with them, looking at things like how they reach out to artists and how they make sure that artist spaces are included in new affordable housing developments," says Marwah.

Artspace is hoping to see a wide turnout at the open house to determine if the organization's approach is right for the area. 

"We take a lot of time during these couple of days in these meetings to really ask, 'Is this something people want?'" Marwah says. 

She and Holmes are also looking for feedback from a wide variety of demographics to determine what will work for the community at large. 

"Partnering with local institutions is always great, but it's really important to us to make space for emerging artists," Marwah says. "We want emerging artists and younger artists to know they're very, very welcome in these conversations, and they should definitely attend to have their voices heard."

Those interested in attending the Artspace open house can RSVP to for a Zoom link.

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at

Image courtesy of Artspace.
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