ArtSpace set to launch commercial space in East Downtown Dearborn

Dearborn City Hall Artspace is preparing to complete its final stage of development by opening up commercial spaces aimed at creative businesses, and local artists are anticipating rich new community connections to result.


City Hall Artspace is a redevelopment of Dearborn's former city hall, undertaken in partnership with the national nonprofit Artspace. In 2016 it opened 53 affordable apartments for artists and their families, located in the complex's City Hall and West Annex buildings. Since then, work has progressed on the complex's third and final building, known as the Connector.


Last year, a facility known as the Arts and Tech Learning Lab opened in the Connector, offering a variety of equipment ranging from iPads to a greenscreen for use by artists and community organizations. As of October, the final piece of the Connector is now ready for occupancy: eight commercial spaces, ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet, plus one larger 8,000-square-foot commercial space.


Freddie Houston, Artspace's director of performance property, says the commercial spaces will help to "stabilize" the City Hall Artspace model.
ArtSpace Dearborn. Photo by David Lewinski.


"(The apartment units) are really set in the amount of money they make per month from the tenants because they're all on subsidized rent, so to speak," he says. "If we have a cold winter and need more gas, it really just comes out of our operating costs. With commercial spaces attached to it, that really lessens the impact that residents feel or Artspace feels."


Kimberly Moore, asset manager for Artspace, says the commercial spaces are a blank slate and that tenants "can set them up any way they want to set them up." She hopes to attract businesses that have a creative focus and established clientele, potentially through an event that would introduce the community to the new spaces.


"We're looking for pretty much anything, but we're leaning towards creative and art-friendly businesses," Houston says.


"A synergy is going to come about"


Julia Kapilango says she and other City Hall Artspace residents have been waiting with "anticipation and excitement" for the commercial spaces to open. Kapilango moved into the complex when it opened and says she's enjoyed the opportunity to build community with other resident artists. She anticipates that the opening of the commercial space will take that community to the next level, describing it as a "hub" with "limitless possibilities."


Kapilango says the commercial spaces will be unique in cultivating multiple creative businesses in close proximity to an existing community of artists. She hopes to see a video or audio production studio, a typesetting business, and/or a silkscreening business move in to the Connector, noting that all of them could be useful in different ways to some of the resident artists.


"Now a synergy is going to come about from allowing our organizations, artists, and artisans to come into the Connector," she says. "I know it's going to inspire the art community as a whole to grow and motivate each art form to go higher."


Amy Libby, another original Artspace tenant, agrees. She hopes to see all the commercial spaces filled with creative or art-related businesses.


"That's kind of what this building is all about," she says. "Its ideal purpose is for art. We could work together, and hopefully I could also learn something from them."


Dearborn Community Fund (DCF) director EmmaJean Woodyard also foresees positive outcomes when the Connector is fully activated. DCF's Pockets of Perception (POP) program, which engages high school students in creating public art, has held meetings in the Arts and Tech Learning Lab and also created a mural there. Woodyard says the Connector space has been great for POP and suggests that it's just getting started.


"Because of the openness of the Connector space, I think there could be a lot of interaction among people," Woodyard says. "I think it's a great way to talk about new ideas through sharing and talking about new ways of cooperating together. That's how creativity works."

Emma Jean Woodward ay ArtSpace in Dearborn. Photo by David Lewinski.


A creative destination


Stakeholders also anticipate that the opening of the commercial spaces will help to raise City Hall Artspace's profile in the public eye and build more connections between the complex and the surrounding community.


"The public has been under the impression that there would be access at some point, but you can't do that in the living space," Woodyard says. "Those are artists' homes. But the Connector space offers that opportunity for trade and for public engagement."


Kapilango says that in her experience, the community is eager for those engagement opportunities.


"Whenever I interact with residents that live within east downtown Dearborn, they really are wanting to come in and patronize what's going on in Artspace," she says. "I see it having a magnetic pull on the community ... because you now have regular hours where the community can come in and see what Artspace has."


Libby hopes the activation of the commercial spaces will lead to more events being held in the Connector. Moore anticipates that the entire campus will have opportunities to participate in citywide events like the annual Gallery Rally. Woodyard adds that additional events could be on the table if one or more artists lease commercial spaces for studio space.


"There would be open houses," she says. "There would be exhibits. There would be other things that would make that space accessible to the public."

ArtSpace Dearborn. Photo by David Lewinski.


Moore envisions the final phase in City Hall Artspace's evolution serving to solidify East Dearborn as the "anchor" of a creative corridor stretching from West Dearborn to Corktown and downtown Detroit. She hopes that artists from Detroit and beyond will see City Hall Artspace as "an opportunity to come and create," and that the general public will recognize East Dearborn as a creative destination.


"I think East Dearborn is just right there in the middle to tie all of that together," she says.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Patrick Dunn.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere