Enhanced cultural presence puts Mesa in running for artist-housing project - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Enhanced cultural presence puts Mesa in running for artist-housing project

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Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013 10:22 am | Updated: 4:26 pm, Mon Jan 14, 2013.

With its flagship piece — the Mesa Arts Center — in place the arts and performance scenes in Arizona’s third-largest city have been on the receiving end of some international acclaim of late.

Most notably, this occurred when the venue took the title of 2012 Venue Excellence Award for performing arts centers from the International Association of Venue Managers; it’s a distinction earned — center Executive Director Cindy Ornstein says — by beating out finalists the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Fla.

Residents from Mesa, the East Valley and the greater Phoenix area as a whole have also taken notice of the 7-year-old Mesa facility. Ornstein said the center welcomed 380,000 visitors in 2012 — 40 percent increase over its 2010 intake.

So it’s no wonder that Minneapolis-based Artspace, a nonprofit that provides low-cost living facilities for artists in all forms near city centers, may be interested in expanding its reach into the Valley — specifically Mesa — with consideration of the arts center as a major upside.

Artspace conducted a “pre-feasibility” report on Mesa and mentioned the center as a notable attraction to the city.

“(Mesa’s) growth and reputation are driven by several factors, including strong and innovative political leadership; investment in the arts, most notably the extraordinary Mesa Arts Center,” the November report said.

Ornstein — also director of the city’s department of arts and culture — said the she is proud of the city’s investment in the arts and agreed with the report about the center’s draw.

“It’s a community center, it’s a place to celebrate creativity and it’s a place to be extremely proud of,” Ornstein said.

Ornstein said arts are important to the economy and quality of life in Mesa and Artspace could be another part to it.

“We look at artists and arts organizations as really important to the future of the future of the community, to sort of creating the kind of community that people are attracted to,” Ornstein said.

The way Artspace works, according to Ornstein is that they are the funders, developers and management of their facilities. They handle all such phases and maintenance and operations of the facility.

“What is needed is affordable space where individual artists can put down roots for themselves and their families and/or make their mark with small creative businesses,” the report said.

The group uses donors, public-private partnerships, government grants and low-income housing perks and rent paid by tenants to create low-cost living and workspace for artists.

Artspace teamed up with Chase Bank to fund and create the Mesa pre-feasibility study.

During the pre-feasibility phase “Artspace gathers information relating to six main issues: project concept, artist market, site feasibility, financial feasibility, local leadership and sustainable community impact,” the report said.

The next step, creating an in-depth Arts Market Study, will also need partners for funding.

Ornstein said it is possible that other cities Valley-wide or other partners would help pay for such a study that would include surveying 5,000 artists to see what their demands and the market’s demand are for such a living space.

The survey would explore other Valley location possibilities, as well.

“This could be hopefully in the next group of activities that move forward if the market study shows that there’s a need,” Ornstein said.

District 4 Councilman Chris Glover, whose district includes the downtown region, also likes the economic possibilities that could be associated with such a project in his jurisdiction.

“We have an internationally renowned arts center that can bring people from all over the world and if we have a space for artists that can bring them to Mesa, now, we can bring people from all around the world to Mesa to watch and see their products,” Glover said.

On top of the economic benefits glover also said the city’s dedication to the arts also enhances the quality of life here.

“It offers a new perspective and it can be the niche market for the artist community ... the more artists you can get, you can always find something that will strike a note with you,” Glover said.

Glover said he is also a big fan of art, particularly paintings from the impressionist era, including some of those by Rembrandt and Monet.

For more information about artspace, visit www.artspace.org. For more on Mesa Arts Center, visit www.mesaartscenter.com.

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