It’s very common for artists to work from home-based studios, or seek out shared studio spaces to create work alongside other creatives This may be convenient for working on a tight schedule or minimizing costs, but what about hosting studio visitors? Having everything at hand to create the work you need (kilns, drafting tables, etc)? Is it possible to focus exclusively on your work while you are in close proximity to others, either in a shared space or in your home?
For those who are seeking affordable, and private, artist studios to work in, you may be able to find them through subsidized programs supported by governmental authorities or fine art-focused nonprofits. As well, many residency programs have artist studios available just for local artists, which also include equipment and materials that artists may have to provide themselves at more generic studios. While finding the right one to suit your needs and budget can be challenging, in this guide, we pull out all the stops to tackle best practices for finding affordable, subsidized – or even free!- artist studio spaces where they can create, engage in dialogue, and forge ahead with new innovations in their artistic practice.
Artist Studio Priorities
Before you start your search, think about what you are looking for in your studio space. Do you seek longevity, a low monthly rent, or both? By prioritizing what you really want to gain from your artist studio, and by narrowing down and ranking the best fit for your artistic practice, you can avoid wasting time and prepare for the shift in your finances and schedule that a new studio demands.
For example, if your type of artwork doesn’t require a lot of equipment nor shopwing your work in the studio setting, you can look for short-term sublets that are often less expensive and flexible. If you are tied to a local graphic area, you may want to consider a long-term space where the landlord is willing to provide a multiple-year lease or a right to renew. If you have the type of artistic practice that requires special equipment, such as ceramics, you can limit your search to only those spaces with a working kiln.
Do you drive or take public transportation? How many hours per week do you have to dedicate to working in a studio? Do you gain most of your income by making art, or do you have another job and make art in addition to this other work? Location may be important if you have a family and don’t want to spend a lot of time commuting. If you are just starting and have little income coming in from your art, you may want a space subsidized for artists who make below a certain income threshold. If you are someone who can live and work in the same space, consider looking for artist lofts or artist-only residences.
So before you begin your search, list all of your priorities, ranking them according to importance, especially those must-haves that you cannot live without. For each space you are considering, add a checkmark next to each item. Most spaces won’t have everything you want, but using this approach should make it easier to visualize whether a space meets your needs or how it compares to other artist studios you are considering.
Even if you already have an artist studio, it still pays to stay informed about spaces in your area. Talk with other artists to gain insights about the artist studio market, and find knowledgeable landlords who can support your artist studio needs. You never know when you will need to move to a new studio. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t feel pressured to move somewhere if you are not ready.
Use Social Media
While a simple online search can return many potential spaces that many artists would be happy to occupy, the search amount of results that you have to sift through can be overwhelming. Instead, try engaging with targeted social media groups and listing sites first, such as the renowned Listings Project site, or even Facebook groups geared toward artists and/or fine art studios. Try searching for “artist open studio tours” in your area to visit a studio or building dedicated to artist studios, just like you would with an “open house” when looking for residential real estate. You can also look for organizations that are dedicated to providing artist studios. For example, Open Studios in Boulder, Colorado, Waltham Mills Open Studios in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Mission Arts Open Studios in San Francisco, California offer robust annual programs where you can visit the studios – and network – with hundreds of artists and the associations and organizations that support them.
When searching by specific geographical area, be sure to look for spaces that are 501(c)(3) designated as nonprofit spaces that are incentivized to provide more affordable space for artists than a regular landlord or for-profit building. While studio space in subsidized artist-friendly studio buildings can be limited, until you know which spaces are offering the best rates it’s easy to fall prey to any old commercial building advertising space as an ideal site for “artist studios”. By doing due diligence and putting in the time to research, the best options will become apparent – both in terms of price and for those seeking specific amenities related to their artistic process.
Focus on Artist Studio Buildings and Fab Labs
Many creatives are moving out of major cities and urban areas to more affordable rural communities that offer more space, cheaper rent, and economic development incentives. Many non-profits are partnering with local government agencies and business owners to bring back to life old warehouses dedicated to the arts. Many not only have artist studios, but artisan shops open to the public, creative programs in all art disciplines, and professional development for artist residents. A prime example is StarWorks in Star, North Carolina, which provides educational programs and economic development for the arts community. Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment in Huntsville, Alabama, Goggleworks in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Torpedo Factory in Alexandra Virginia are also examples of organizations helping members of the creative economy enhance their growth and development.
There are also fabrication spaces or “fab labs” that offer shared and private studio spaces with access to high-end equipment for a reasonable membership fee. Some even offer co-worker spaces and private offices for those focused more on the business side of art. Openworks in Baltimore, Maryland is one example, geared to empower the local creative community with collaborative opportunities, classes, and expert advice to help with their projects as well as providing a bridge for graduating art students who need to transition from school to the working world.
The Generator in Burlington, VT is another model that is a combination of artist studios, classes (3-D printing, sewing, woodshop), mentorship, and a business incubator with the tools, expertise, education, and opportunities to help artists make their ideas a reality. You can find other fab lab spaces across the globe at Fab Lab Network’s website.
Finally, remember that price isn’t everything. While cheap rent is ideal, you also can get what you pay for. You may have to adjust your priorities based on what is available and in your price range. Not every space will have the specific equipment, security, amenities, or natural light that you need to do your work. Be prepared to compromise on the space you find, and explore alternative resources for creating specific bodies of work. Ultimately, if you do your due diligence, you will find an artist studio that suits your needs and budget so you can spend your time creating amazing work.
Have you found a perfect space for an artist studio or had experience trying to find a suitable one? What should you be sure to and what must you steer away from? Share your suggestions in the comments below.