Feb 1, 2016

What we're good at: Matching organizations with the right space

Over the last decade, Artspace Consulting has worked with many clients – arts organizations, arts councils, foundations, government agencies, and, occasionally, individuals – all of them seeking to tap into our unique experience and skills.

But what are those skills? What do we know, and what are the things we’re good at? 

In general, we’re good at the same things that Artspace is good at. Artspace specializes not only in planning and building affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations but also in operating them and, importantly, in keeping them affordable over time. Over the decades, we’ve developed a set of best practices that informs not only our own projects but our consulting work as well.

Here’s one example of how we used those concepts to help an arts organization in our home state find a new home.

The Bemidji Community Arts Center, located near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Bemidji, Minnesota, had outgrown its space, a historic Carnegie Library overlooking Lake Bemidji. In 2011, BCAC asked Artspace Consulting to help it identify a suitable venue 

The BCAC had done its homework. It had calculated its space needs realistically and precisely, and with the help of local real estate agents it had identified four downtown buildings that Executive Director Lori Forshee-Donnay thought might serve to house its expanding programs. But which of them made the most sense for the organization?

Over the course of two visits, an Artspace Consulting team met with Forshee-Donnay, BCAC Board and staff, and other stakeholders. We also toured the four candidate buildings and rated the top three according to criteria ranging from location and size to ease of acquisition and potential for remodeling. For comparison purposes, we also rated the Carnegie Library building.

Not surprisingly, the old library came in dead last, despite its National Register status and beautiful views. The winner by a clear margin was a former grocery store across the street: a “plain Jane” building with excellent potential for BCAC and its programs. We also gave the organization a “due diligence” list of steps to take before moving forward.

With the Artspace recommendations in hand, the BCAC Board in 2012 secured a loan from USDA Rural Development to purchase the building. In 2014, BCAC launched its capital campaign and, thanks to an anonymous gift, was able to buy an adjacent property that will give it a full half-block. 

Also in 2014, the organization changed its name to reflect the fact that it serves not just Bemidji but a nine-county region of northern Minnesota. Now known as the Watermark Art Center, it is in the process of moving its offices and programs into what it hopes will be a home for the long haul.

We couldn’t be happier that we were able to help.


Learn more about Artspace's Consulting team here and follow them on Twitter @artspaceconsult.