Artspace aims to open in Woodstock with a building for artists to live and work

Idea is to create affordable housing for artistic creators

Attendees listen to an Artspace presentation Feb. 8, 2024 at Warp Corps in Woodstock.

Woodstock is moving closer to having an Artspace apartment building in town.

Minneapolis-based Artspace seeks to build affordable spaces for artists to live and work in, so they’re not priced out of their communities. The nonprofit is looking at building in Woodstock, which would be at least the fifth Artspace property in Illinois. The nonprofit currently has two buildings in Chicago, one in Waukegan and another in Elgin.

The proposed apartment complex still is a long way from having a shovel in the ground, but Artspace would offer below-market rate rents in order to help artists be able to afford to live in Woodstock. No specific site has been identified but Artspace is looking at locating in or near downtown.

“Artists are often harbingers of great economic change,” Wendy Holmes of Artspace told the crowd in a Wednesday night information meeting.

Artspace representatives had visited Woodstock last spring and conducted a feasibility study, the findings of which they shared Wednesday. Their first visit to town was in 2016, but the company found Woodstock wasn’t quite ready for Artspace, Terry Willcockson, the former grant manager for the City of Woodstock, said Thursday.

“Everything is just bustling here,” Willcockson said of the current state of Woodstock.

The presentation outlined some of the challenges artists face in Woodstock, such as affordability and a lack of hotels and restaurants. Woodstock officials said in the State of the City last fall they’re trying to get a hotel on the Square.

Artspace provides what they call on their website “workforce housing, live/work apartments for artists and their families, working artist studios, arts centers, space for arts-friendly businesses and other projects.”

The site defines a “live/work project” as a residential building with about 100 to 150 extra square feet to use as a studio. “These spaces are designed to accommodate and foster a variety of creative processes,” the site says, adding the buildings typically include “common spaces such as galleries, meeting rooms, and green space” along with nonresidential space on the lower floors.

The presentation in Woodstock also mentioned opportunities artists have in the area, such as interest from the local community and a history of local filmmaking. “Groundhog Day” was shot in the city in 1992, and more recently, Hulu’s “Reporting for Christmas” was partially filmed in town.

Artspace representatives urged the city to support the initiative in official documents, and City Councilwoman Natalie Ziemba, who was in the audience, encouraged the public to weigh in.

“Please, please, please make your voices heard,” Ziemba said.

Artspace representatives also said that the housing will primarily be for residents who live locally.

“That probably won’t happen,” Holmes said about the potential of artists from Chicago or other communities moving into Woodstock.

In a Q&A after the presentation, Ziemba also asked Artspace representatives to define what they mean by affordable.

“We hear affordable tossed around a lot,” Ziemba said.

Artspace’s website says its housing is “affordable to households earning at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) of the city or county in which the project is located.”

The U.S. Census Bureau website says the median household income in Woodstock is about $82,300.

Younger artists also had a chance to weigh in Thursday at separate meeting, although Holmes said youth is a “personal definition.”

Attendees said that some of the things they’d like to see for the “creative sector” in Woodstock, such as a skate park and storage for materials, among others.

Eli Tatosian was among the attendees Thursday.

“I’m thrilled that this is happening,” Tatosian said, adding that “smaller places can blossom” as much as larger cities.

Elgin’s 55-unit Artspace Lofts opened in 2012 downtown, steps from the Fox River. The building once was a Sears and Roebuck Co. store, and later part of Elgin Community College’s downtown campus.

The public entrance for Elgin ArtSpace Lofts, 51 S. Spring St., Elgin, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. The 55-unit, income-eligible apartment building opened in late 2012 in a former Sears and Roebuck store.

Renovations of the former department store cost $15.2 million. In addition to apartments, the complex includes gallery space for public events, 5,000 square feet of first-floor retail space and community rooms for resident use.

Each unit has its own laundry and energy-efficient appliances.

It also was a boon to the community, Mayor David Kaptain said.

“We just celebrated its anniversary. The project itself has been full the entire time since it opened and there is a waiting list of artists” who want to live there, Kaptain said.

There was concern before the building opened that artists wouldn’t want to live there, Kaptain said. “That has not been the case. They are a good community parter, hosting art shows and community meetings there. It has been a positive for us, no doubt.”

If Woodstock does decide to pursue an Artspace project, the key is planning, preparedness and finding the right location. “It has been a community asset on our part. Tenants receive rental assistance that allows them to practice their craft.”

The lobby at Elgin ArtSpace Lofts, 51 S. Spring St., Elgin, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. The 55-unit, income-eligible apartment building opened in late 2012 in a former Sears and Roebuck store.

Elgin resident John LaFleur doesn’t live at the city’s Artspace, nor was he involved in the development. However, as a philanthropy advisor with clients around the country, he has recommended funding projects Artspace has done around the country, including in Milwaukee and Santa Fe.

One of those recommendations was to underwrite a $40,000 feasibility study for the Milwaukee project.

“I love it for Elgin and everywhere,” LaFleur said of the Artspace concept.

He has also been involved in events held at the Elgin location. In 2013, he and others did a “Calling All Robots” art installation. According to the Facebook page, it is a “pop up art installation celebrating the Robot in 2D, 3D art as well as pop culture.”

They’ve continued that annual exhibit since.

Artspace, he said, “is transformative ... in a downtown, with housing, exhibit space and retail space.”