Naomi Chu, Vice President of Asset Management, brings more than 20 years of experience as a leader at Artspace. She and her team are responsible for the stewardship of Artspace buildings, and they work directly with the artists and families who live and work within them.
Please tell us about your history and current role with Artspace.
Naomi Chu (NC): I began working with Artspace in 1997 to create Artspace's first for-profit subsidiary, Performance Property Management Company, which allowed Artspace to run their local commercial property management team in-house. In 2005, I took leave from Artspace to become the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, a Minnesota nonprofit organization focused on developing a Pan-Asian center to celebrate, promote, and foster understanding of Asian Pacific cultural heritage in Minnesota. In 2008, I returned to Artspace in the role of Finance Manager; then moved into National Advancement; and then to Properties as a Director of Real Estate Operations. This position evolved into my current role of Vice President of Asset Management. I am also the Program Manager of the Rafala Green Fellowship Program, which seeks to promote equity and inclusion in nonprofit real estate by training the next generation of emerging leaders of color who work at the intersection of arts, real estate, and community development. And I am serving as a member of Artspace’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) core working group, guided by a great consultant with a unique, healing centered approach to create the conditions for deep, long-term organizational engagement.
What motivates you to do your work?
NC: That’s easy: The artists who live and work in Artspace buildings drive my passion! Affordable housing is critical, and what motivates me is the knowledge that, in my many years of working at Artspace, I play a role in providing safe and sustainable space to the creative individuals who are our change makers.
How has the pandemic impacted you and the work?
NC: These unprecedented times are very challenging, but I’m proud to say that the Asset team works tirelessly to keep our projects stable, ensuring housing security for our residents and their families. We are at the forefront of Artspace’s work across the country, serving 2,000 households and 700+ commercial tenants. In many cases, the pandemic has devastated the abilities of our resident artists and commercial tenants to earn an income. I have personal connections with many of these artists, and the news of their circumstances this past year has hit me deeply. I’m thankful to have also witnessed many inspiring moments of resident artists’ resilience, perseverance, and joy, which counterbalances the stress. Their stories, and the ways that they use their artistic skills to make meaning, inspire me.
Looking toward the future of Artspace five years from today, what would be your dream/goal/vision for the organization?
NC: My vision for Artspace is to broaden the resources we need to go deeper into our work. I want to see Artspace have the capacity to invest in culturally distinct communities and diverse artists; and to expand our services to foster artists and community partners who are leading social justice work with impacts locally and nationally.
Artspace creates physical space through critical brick-and-mortar affordable housing and community facilities. Yet we also provide intangible space for artists to be secure to do their work; to create community; and to generate the energy or spirit that can move all of us to bigger visions. The impact of Artspace is so much more than our buildings.
Is there anything else that we should have asked, that you want to share?
NC: I am often in conversations with people who are getting to know Artspace and who we are, from artists applying to live in our buildings to potential advocates and funders. No matter the audience, my message is always the same: Visit one of our projects. Come to an event at one of our buildings and talk to some of our resident artists. Give us the time to show you that we are not just trying to sell you. You will hear and see for yourself that investment in Artspace is not just building a building, but developing a creative community. You can pick any resident artist in any one of our projects, and they will tell you powerful and inspiring stories about how living in a creative community deeply impacted their lives and artistic work. Some will make you laugh, and some will make you cry, but they will all share how living in an Artspace building changed their life. Even as the pandemic shut down our community spaces, art crawls, and events, resident artists will still state that they value living with other artists who are not only their neighbors, but also their friends.