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We're on Course to Build the Nation's Largest Nonprofit Artist Studio Space in Downtown DSM

We're on Course to Build the Nation's Largest Nonprofit Artist Studio Space in Downtown DSM

November 2, 2017

A simple "artists priced out" Google search results in a growing list of headlines from across our nation explaining how artists are forced to move out of neighborhoods because their studios have suddenly become more valuable as apartments, hotels, restaurants and so forth. As cities grow and revitalize, artists continue their nomadic role in gentrifying neighborhoods to the appeal of developers.

New Artist Studio Buildings

Mainframe Studios is changing this storyline by creating a new nonprofit model for artist studio buildings. We have a financially self-sustaining business plan for providing permanent affordable workspace to artists of all disciplines.

This empowers Downtown Des Moines (DSM) to harness the impact creative professions have on attracting a skilled workforce, contributing to a vibrant economy, sparking innovation, engaging tourists and cultivating social wellbeing.

Our story begins at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts. Mainframe Studios founder and president Justin Mandelbaum co-founded it in 2005. The 250,000-square-foot mill building hosts 250 studios and 50 live/work lofts. It is the largest studio building on the East Coast. Being structured as a “for profit”, Justin learned firsthand the financial challenges of owning an artist workspace and the pressure landlords face to convert these buildings to a “higher and better use.”

Creating a Successful Studio Building

Justin also learned key factors in creating a successful studio building — critical mass, low pricing, a creative and collaborative environment, monthly open studio events, and, most importantly, a self-sustaining nonprofit structure.

When moving back to his hometown of DSM, he developed a strategic plan for Mainframe Studios. A demand study of 424 local artists demonstrated that more than 325 were working out of their homes or have no studio space at all. These “invisible” artists are an untapped economic resource. By providing space for over 200 artists under one roof, the project transforms this resource into an economic driver by attracting the creative class, young professionals and new businesses.

In 2014, Mainframe Studios purchased 900 Keosauqua Way, a 160,000-square-foot building located prominently at the main entrance to Downtown DSM. Three of our five floors have been renovated and the former CenturyLink building now features 65 artist studios, five arts-related nonprofit offices, a commercial kitchen, event rental space and common areas. Over 80 artists are settling into their new studios, of which 56% are women and 20% are from out of town. Some are investing as much as $60,000 into their creative workspaces and purchasing homes in our community. Twenty-four artist disciplines are represented: glass blowers, clothing designers, painters, sculptors, game developers, woodworkers, printers, stone workers, storyboard artists and more.

With two more floors to renovate, Mainframe Studios will feature 180 artist studios once fully complete. It is becoming a national model as one of the largest affordable workspaces for artists in the country.

As the director of this enterprising nonprofit, it is quite satisfying to show DSM the breadth of talent we have here. We are taking artists and their careers seriously, valuing their role and empowering them with a facility, community, exposure and resources that ignite possibilities for their success.

Tenants can pay as little as $114 per month for studio space, utilities and wifi connection. Once our capital campaign is fulfilled these affordable rents will cover expenses and fund an endowment that covers facility maintenance and upgrades. A recent lead gift of $1-million from Lauridsen Family Endowment is helping ensure that artists have a place in the heart of our community for generations to come. 

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