It’s very common for artists to work from home-based studios, or seek out shared 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 artist studios to work in with privacy, it can be encouraging to know what artist studios are often supported by metropolitan tax authorities or fine art-focused nonprofits. Artist residencies also often have auxiliary spaces for local artists seeking studio space, and will understand the needs of artists working at a site and make sure they have facilities and utilities specific to them that other landlords or sites would not. Knowing how to identify the right opportunities for artists that are affordable, fair, and provide the right access that artists need is crucial when seeking out studio space. This practical guide provides actionable advice for artists serious about finding studio space for the long term that fits their budget.
Here, we pull out all the stops to tackle best practices for artists looking for a must-have guide to 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.
Do The Research, Reap the Rewards
While a simple online search can yield results when seeking affordable studio space, targeted social media groups and listing sites are key for artists serious about finding affordable studio space fast. Pivotal resources for artists include the renowned Listings Project site, or even Facebook groups geared toward artists and/or fine art studios. Live near an urban area? Search specifically for “artist open studio tours” in your area of to find out where there is a dense population of artists and which buildings have the most available artist studio space. If there’s a studio tour coming up. you can even tour open studios and gain insights into which buildings would best suit your needs. 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 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.
Artist Studio Buildings on Steroids 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. The creative opportunities to bring art and culture to these areas are endless. 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. StarWorks in Star, North Carolina, is an arts-centered work community that promotes community and economic development by providing artistic educational programs and business ventures. Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment in Huntsville, Alabama, Goggleworks in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Torpedo Factory in Alexandra Virginia are also examples of how the creative economy is including artists and creative entrepreneurship in its growth and development.
There are also fabrication spaces or “fab labs” that offer access to high end equipment for a reasonable membership fee, shared and private studio spaces. Some even offer co-worker spaces and private offices when you are focusing on the business side of your art. Openworks in Baltimore, Maryland is one example, particularly geared to empower the local creative community and provide a bridge for graduating art students who need to transition school and are looking for collaborative opportunities, classes, and expert advice to help with their projects.
The Generator in Burlington, VT another model that is a combination of artist studios, classes (3-D printing, sewing, woodshop), and business incubator at the intersection of art, science, and technology. The non-profit hosts a series of creative entrepreneurship classes, mentorship and support to provide members with the tools, expertise, education, and opportunity they want to create, collaborate, and to make their ideas reality. You can find other fab lab spaces anywhere in the world at Fab Lab Network’s website.
Artist Studio Priorities: Pros and Cons
Think about what you are looking for in your studio space: do you seek longevity, a low monthly rent, both? By prioritizing what you really want to gain from your studio space you can nail down the best opportunities and apply specifically for those. While there is substantial competition for affordable artist studio space, 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 artists unafraid of changing studios every few months, it can be possible to identify opportunities for free studio space and apply for the right opportunities to align a few free studios in a row. For artists who are tied to a geographical location or region, this may be more difficult and the search may be focused around a more permanent, long-term studio solution. In addition, the type of artistic practice an artist runs will determine needs for the studio space – ceramicists will need to find a studio building with a working kiln, while artists such as printmakers and textile artists will need to take specific needs linked to their process into consideration when seeking their next studio space.
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? These are important questions not only for you but also for a potential landlord who may have restrictions on who exactly they can rent out studio space to. While it’s more important from a time management perspective for you to be aware of which locations will be a reasonable distance for you to commute to in order to make art, you may be seeking space at a building that is subsidized for artists who make below a certain income threshold and who rely primarily on art sales in order to make a living. This can be true not only for artist studio spaces, but for artist lofts as well: if you are someone who can work at home, and you are seeking a more affordable living situation, applying to be waitlisted for these in-demand artist-only residences can prove worthwhile.
There are many factors to consider when seeking out new, subsidized artist studio space. Lsting your priorities, knowing your budget, and gauging the length of time you can spend at any one studio location will make it easier to identify one when you see it. Stay informed, get insights from current artist tenants, and find knowledgeable landlords who can support your artist studio needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t feel pressured to move in too quickly if you are not ready.
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. For example, when working with steel, many buildings will have restrictions on welding and soldering.
Talk to artists who have similar needs and see where they are renting studio space, then – if the price isn’t right – hunt around for smaller spaces in the same building. Try legally (and with a written agreement) sub-leasing a space there until you find the right match. You may also have to widen your search area until you find an artist studio that fits for your needs at a budget that you can afford.
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.
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.