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East Lansing could develop dedicated affordable housing for artists

Albert Avenue photo
Courtesy
/
City of East Lansing
More concrete plans for the development could come later in the spring.

The city of East Lansing is looking to attract more artists to its downtown with affordable housing and dedicated workspaces.

To do that, city leaders are considering a partnership with the nonprofit Artspace to design and develop a property for creatives.

Emily Elliot is the acting executive director and publisher of East Lansing Info. She spoke to WKAR's Sophia Saliby about her recent article on a feasibility report on the potential development.

Interview Highlights

On what Artspace is

Artspace is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, and they've been around roughly 30 years. And they have partnerships with cities across the United States. And what they do is they come in and they try to build places where artists could live affordably, usually rent would be subsidized if you make between 30% and 60% of the median income. And then there's also spaces for the artists to do their work, and "artists" is broadly construed to meet many different types of creatives.

On what the feasibility study found about diversity for artists in the city

The feasibility study did point to some hurdles to overcome in terms of diversity though. Artists of color who were interviewed said that East Lansing, as a city, has talked about inclusion and diversity but hasn't taken as many steps to make artists feel welcome, and also pointed out that although Asians are about 15% of East Lansing's population, there were almost no Asian artists to speak of that they met. So, that seemed to be a bigger hurdle was to bring artists of color into East Lansing and make it a welcoming and comfortable place for them.

On potential locations for the development

It did seem that Valley Court Park was the leading choice. And I think that would be a good location based on the evidence Artspace put forward. It would extend an arts corridor from, you know, the eastern edge of Grand River in East Lansing down toward Valley Court Park and it would be fairly affordable for ArtSpace to procure and easy to develop on. The Evergreen properties which were behind the Abbott apartment complex and the Graduate Hotel is very nearby, but those properties have five million dollars of debt on them. But things like the Bailey lot, City Hall, the Hannah Community Center were pitched.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: The city of East Lansing is looking to attract more artists to its downtown with affordable housing and dedicated workspaces.

To do that, city leaders are considering a partnership with the nonprofit Artspace to design and develop a property for creatives.

Emily Elliot is the acting executive director and publisher of East Lansing Info. She recently wrote about a feasibility report on the potential development and joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Emily Elliott: Thank you for having me on, Sophia.

Saliby: Can you explain more of what Artspace is and how it would work in the city?

Elliott: Artspace is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, and they've been around roughly 30 years. And they have partnerships with cities across the United States. And what they do is they come in and they try to build places where artists could live affordably, usually rent would be subsidized if you make between 30% and 60% of the median income.

And then there's also spaces for the artists to do their work, and "artists" is broadly construed to meet many different types of creatives. And also community spaces, so there might be a coffee shop where you'd pay for coffee, access to collective workspaces as well.

It's to really help bolster an arts community or corridor within the cities that they partner, and they've worked in other Michigan cities such as Dearborn.

And it's to really help bolster an arts community or corridor within the cities that they partner, and they've worked in other Michigan cities such as Dearborn.

Saliby: As part of its greater goals, the city is looking to make downtown both more affordable and more diverse. Does it seem like a partnership with Artspace could do that? Or is this just like a step in a bigger process?

Elliott: I think from my take on the feasibility study, Artspace would do a very good job of creating an arts corridor in the downtown area. There are different sites already. There's, I think it's (SCENE) Metrospace is owned by the city. There's a handful of art galleries. There's the BROAD Art Lab. The Hannah Community Center is a bit further from downtown, but they have collaborative spaces. And the idea is to have this downtown and add to that.

The feasibility study did point to some hurdles to overcome in terms of diversity though. Artists of color who were interviewed said that East Lansing, as a city, has talked about inclusion and diversity but hasn't taken as many steps to make artists feel welcome, and also pointed out that although Asians are about 15% of East Lansing's population, there were almost no Asian artists to speak of that they met. So, that seemed to be a bigger hurdle was to bring artists of color into East Lansing and make it a welcoming and comfortable place for them.

Saliby: The report detailed several potential locations for this development. Can you share a few of them and how likely the city is to pursue them as locations for an Artspace?

Elliott: Yeah, some of them I was taken aback by such as City Hall was mentioned as an option. It did seem that Valley Court Park was the leading choice. And I think that would be a good location based on the evidence Artspace put forward. It would extend an arts corridor from, you know, the eastern edge of Grand River in East Lansing down toward Valley Court Park, and it would be fairly affordable for Artspace to procure and easy to develop on.

The Evergreen properties which were behind the Abbott apartment complex and the Graduate Hotel is very nearby, but those properties have five million dollars of debt on them. But things like the Bailey lot, City Hall, the Hannah Community Center were pitched, and it could be a good move for the city because they have millions of dollars and repairs they want to do, but it seemed like the locations weren't as ideal for Artspace.

Saliby: When I think of, you know, downtown East Lansing, I think of it as a center of student life. Did any part of this feasibility study kind of counter how they would encourage young professionals, young creatives to move to this neighborhood?

Elliott: It's a goal, and I know the city outlined five major goals, and graduate retention was one of them. There seems to be a brain drain or a creative drain, particularly to Lansing, which is more affordable.

The hope was that providing affordable housing would keep some creatives within East Lansing.

And the hope was that providing affordable housing would keep some creatives within East Lansing, and they did talk about increasing partnerships across Grand River as well. So, collaboration between artists affiliated with the university and then perhaps previously-affiliated students who have moved on.

Saliby: When will the city decide if it's moving forward with this project? What's next?

Elliott: Unknown right now. This study came out, or the feasibility report, kind of quietly. There was a lot of fanfare in September when Artspace came to visit. The city received the report and sent it to members of its various boards and commissions.

And that's how we received it, a commissioner sent it on to us, but there was no press release. But we were told by the city of East Lansing that it would be discussed at boards and commissions and then council in the spring and next steps then would be considered so perhaps by late spring, early summer, we'll know more.

Saliby: Emily Elliot is the acting executive director and publisher of East Lansing Info. You can read more of her reporting on Artspace at eastlansinginfo.news. Thank you for joining me.

Elliott: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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