Artspace

Artspace organizers, from left, Dayton Rush, Anna Paige and Kim Olsen.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

Montana is trailing behind North Dakota and Colorado in developing an Artspace project to provide affordable housing and studio space to enhance the city’s core.

The seven-person steering committee behind the Billings Artspace Project has been rallying support for the project since 2009 and they’re ready to make the pitch during the Billings City Council’s work session at 5:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers at City Hall.

So far, 307 people have signed an online petition of support for Artspace. The petition is available at thepetitionsite.com

Dayton Rush, an architect with CTA Architects, said the committee can’t wait any longer. They already sat back to allow the city to focus on the new library and Dehler Park baseball field.

“Housing is getting harder and harder to get downtown. There has been an increase in arts and culture with more galleries and the DBA’s public art project. There seems to be more momentum in the culture of downtown Billings. Now, we’ve got to get people living down there.”

In 2016, three new art galleries opened in downtown Billings, and a new venue, 2905, started hosting events. The Pub Station Ballroom has presented several sold-out shows since it was expanded to accommodate 800 people in January, and there are now five coffee shops, five tap rooms and a cider house downtown.

Rush points out that young people want to be close to the action, but there is a waiting list for affordable housing in downtown Billings. Like others, Rush has been wanting to move downtown for years, but there is no space.

Billings poet and teacher Anna Paige said she has spoken with many downtown businesses, including the pubs and coffee shops, and they are on board with the project. The committee is asking the council to support the project and provide $500,000 in funds to move the development forward.

“We are asking for the city to support it through the surplus in their general fund. If they don’t approve it, we want to know why,” Paige said. “This has moved from a heartstrings pull to economic development for downtown.”

Paige has also recruited cultural leaders to help bring Artspace to Billings.

“Robyn Peterson is helping guide our fundraising efforts, and we have support and advice from Tim Goodridge. We’ve got Jack Nickels, who is the head of the Cultural Partners. Kim Olsen is a beautiful guiding voice.”

The city paid $45,000 for the feasibility study in 2009, which determined that there were 90 artists in need of affordable housing and studio and performance space. The Artspace team that reviewed the needs of Billings determined that a development to provide housing for 30 artists would be feasible.

Based in Minneapolis, Artspace is a nonprofit real estate developer that provides affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses. Even though Artspace is a nonprofit, it elects to pay taxes to support the community. Once a city begins pre-development of an Artspace project, Artspace will bring 80 percent of the project funding to Billings via federal programs, grants and foundations.

Paige pointed out that the definition of artist encompasses more than just visual artists. Writers, craftsmen, performance artists and tattoo artists are all part of the demographic Artspace would benefit.

Artspace creates housing and workspace for those earning 60 percent or below the area median income. Artspace owns and operates 40 projects across the country, including projects in Minot, North Dakota, and Loveland, Colorado. There are no other Artspace projects in Montana.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.