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With ArtSpace Sale Pending, Arts Groups Must Look For New Homes

A scene from Acting Against Cancer's production of "Tick, Tick... Boom!"
Ryan Noltemeyer
A scene from Acting Against Cancer's production of "Tick, Tick... Boom!"

An office building housing several of Louisville’s arts organizations is on track to get new ownership.

ArtSpace near the Brown Hotel and theater on W. Broadway, formerly known as the Brown Office Building, was donated to the philanthropic nonprofit Fund for the Arts in December 2006. The fund has owned and operated the building and rented out the units, at subsidized rates, to arts and culture organizations.

The sale of the building is pending and likely to be finalized, forcing resident organizations of ArtSpace to seek new homes.

The board of Fund for the Arts Properties Foundation, Inc., the Fund’s real estate endeavor, decided it best that the organization get out of the real estate business, said Janie Martin, the organization’s chief financial officer and chief operations officer.

“It's a management of time issue,” she said. 

In February 2018, the Fund put the building on the market.

Presently, ArtSpace has between 12 and 15 tenants, about half of which are cultural institutions: Kentucky Shakespeare, Kentucky Opera, West Louisville Performing Arts Academy, Acting Against Cancer, CirqueLouis and, more recently, Creatives of Color Collective, or C3

According to the Kentucky Commercial Properties Search listing, the first eight floors of the 10-story building are part of the sale, totaling about 55,896 square footage. It’s status is “pending” and the sale price is listed as $1,675,000. 

The money from the sale of this building will be put into the Fund’s other programs, helping it better support their mission, CEO and president Christen Boone said.

ArtSpace “has evolved over the years,” as arts groups have moved in and moved out. Boone believes the model “worked really well” for years, but more recently, a number of the units within the space have sat empty. 

“For many years, it had great value, and it still does, but just in a diminishing way for fewer organizations. And as the real estate market changed, and so many offices opened up and we weren't able to keep that space full, we asked the question, Where do the Fund for the Arts’ annual resources need to go?” she said.

“I think it's important that this wasn't a failure. It's not an end, it is an evolution.”

Organizations begin the hunt for new space

“The timing is really not a friend of ours right now,” McDaniel Bluitt, founder and director of West Louisville Performing Arts Academy, said. 

His organization, which has been teaching music to kids and teens for more than 30 years, has been in the building for about a decade. It’s been an ideal location, he said. 

“The thing that made it so perfect for us is that we were located in an area where the kids who live West could get to and fro to the rehearsals and performances,” Bluitt said, noting that the facility is easily accessible by public transit. 

But the news of a buyer during a pandemic and following months of racial justice demonstrations in the city is a lot for Bluitt to process. 

“We got our plates full and a few sauces on the side,” he said. They don’t have any prospects for a new space at the moment.

Acting Against Cancer executive director Remy Sisk said they’ve been working out of the third floor of ArtSpace since 2017.  Being able to transform that space into their home base was a pivotal moment for the organization, and they’re particularly proud of the performance venue they built, a “dream come true” to have a theater to call their own, he said.

“We were able to take this kind of dusty, unused room and make a real theater,” Sisk said. “And that's something that we've taken great pride in and have credited as really a major part of our development.”

He remembers the first opening night they had in the theater for a run of the musical, “Tick, Tick... Boom!”

“Opening night of that show...just seeing the band take their seats, and the lights go down. and the soundboard light up, it was just extraordinary,” he said. “I was moved to tears.”

Sisk said they are grateful to the Fund for the years they’ve had in the space and for the support — Acting Against Cancer, like many of the groups in the space, is a Fund for the Grants grantee as well. But to find out that they’re likely “going to lose this space we've really built as a home was a blow to us.”

“Now, to leave and not really know what the immediate future holds for the performing arts is really difficult,” Sisk said.

Matt Wallace, producing artistic director for Kentucky Shakespeare, said they’ve been bracing for this for nearly three years now, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The theater company has been in that space for 10 years and he said it’s been a really good fit for them.

“It's affordable, it's convenient, we have our rehearsal [space], our costume shop and our office here,” he said of the heavily subsidized few thousand square feet they occupy.” So it's really been a special way to operate having all that here… It’s been a powerful energy, sharing resources, networking, communication. It's a shame to be taken a step backwards in that.” 

They look at spaces nearly every day and are trying to stay optimistic by dreaming about what could be the ideal space for Kentucky Shakespeare, Wallace said. 

“Maybe it'll be some exciting new step forward we just don't know about yet,” he said, adding that he’d love to find a place they could buy, particularly in Old Louisville near where they perform their summer season. But he anticipates their financial situation landing them in another rental. 

Alonzo Ramont is CEO of Creatives of Color Collective, an artistic incubator that formed over the summer to help Black artists and artists of color hone their craft and their business chops.

C3 moved into ArtSpace in September “knowing that it could be a short-term deal,” said Ramont, who is also president and CEO of Redline Performing Arts. They were thankful for the subsidized rent. 

“We thought a temporary space is better than no space,” he said. “So we thought we could mobilize, use that time to build some momentum and sort of hit the ground running with our project while we had the space.”

He didn’t anticipate it to be for just a few months however, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited their use of the physical facility. 

“It definitely jolted us… But you know, we're moving forward, we're looking for spaces at the moment.”

He said, on the up side, it could accelerate a goal of the collective: to own its own space. 

“It's about ownership,” Ramont said. “I think we gloss over how important ownership is. And so I'm lucky to be in communities and be part of organizations where that's the conversation, especially for African Americans, that we've often been pigeonholed into renting because it's what our parents did because they couldn't own things.”

Fund promises to help with transition

Fund for the Arts’ Christen Boone said they could not, at this point, share the name of the buyer. She did disclose that it’s a local developer interested in turning the eight floors of space into multi-family residential units.

They expect to close on this sale Dec. 31,  the fund's Janie Martin said. The buyer has an option to extend a month. Depending on the tenants’ rental agreements, they’ll have 60 to 90 days from the close to move out. Martin said the buyer has expressed willingness to work with organizations that are struggling with the transition to a new home, and the Fund is providing resources to help groups in their search.

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