There’s a big difference between an artist cooperative and an artist live/work space.
Cooperatives are easy to form, solve many practical problems and are all over the South Sound (see information at right). Live/work spaces, on the other hand, require city cooperation, investment and a lot of planning – and while Seattle has some and Olympia has discussed one, Tacoma has none. Here’s the difference between the two programs.
Artist cooperatives run on a simple premise: Management and finances are group-controlled.
Each member artist pays a certain monthly fee and volunteers a certain amount of time, and in return gets space to create and/or show work.
Bookkeeping, public opening time and decision-making are all done by members. It works out much cheaper than individual studios, artists keep their own sales profits, and extra money can fund group efforts, such as marketing or open houses.
“Whoever is at the meetings makes the decisions,” said Val Persoon, a founding member of co-op Freighthouse Art Gallery. “And sometimes, that makes for better decisions than I would have done.”
Co-ops don’t always work out, however. Carolyn Burt owns the Proctor Art Gallery but operates it like a cooperative, except that she keeps the books and makes most business decisions. The result, she says, is better than a traditional co-op.
“Cooperatives are always a problem when you need extra money for an event,” said Burt, who puts a 5 percent commission into a fund for precisely this reason. “And when different people do the books, there’s no consistency.”
Live/work spaces go further than shared work space: They provide cheap rent, on-site studios and a communal environment for artists to live. It’s a goal sought last year by the city of Olympia, which hosted a visit by Artspace, the biggest nonprofit developer in the country and the creators of projects like the Tashiro Kaplan Lofts in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
“Olympia is known as an arts community, and there’s a shortage of downtown residences,” said Stephanie Johnson, arts and events manager for city of Olympia. “The Artspace idea is something the Council felt it would be good to initiate.”
But there are no shared live/work artist spaces in Tacoma, and the reason is complex.
“I haven’t found any buildings zoned for live/work that are affordable for artists,” said Linda Danforth, who runs three artist cooperatives in town. “But a lot of people are interested.”
Part of the problem is city code: To change zoning to residential with public use (like a gallery), a barrage of safety issues have to be paid for, such as seismic upgrades, fire suppressants and other expensive items. The Tac 25 artist living collective recently closed for code violation; Gallery 301 bypasses the issue by displaying art in what is technically a living room.
“So far there hasn’t been the financial support for a government-backed live/work space,” said city arts administrator Amy McBride, on why Tacoma isn’t looking at an Artspace project yet. “You need a building and $500,000 predevelopment costs up front. And I’m also looking for projects where artists actually get a slice of equity, not just paying rent. I don’t know the answer, I just wish we had one.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568
Speakeasy Arts Cooperative
Where: 746 Broadway, Tacoma
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and after hours for classes and special events
Info: 253-426-5704 or www.speakeasyartscooperative.com Artist Cooperatives in the South Sound
Broadway Artists’ Cooperative, 705 Court C/Opera Alley. About 10 artists, mainly painters and textile. 253-756-5544, www.artisttrust.org/node/4257.
Freighthouse Art Gallery, 602 E. 25th St. Tacoma’s oldest artist-owned co-operative, about 12 artists. 253-383-9765, www.freighthousesquare.com.
Jet Artists Cooperative, 1901 S. Jefferson St. Fifteen fine arts and crafts artists. 253-756-5544, www.jetartistcooperative.com.
Tacoma Art Place, 1116 S. 11th St. A nonprofit offering low-cost equipment, space and lessons to anybody. 253-238-1006, www.tacomaartplace.org.
253 Collective, 1901 S. Jefferson St. Opening in March, a fine arts retail boutique. 253-756-5544, www.253collective.com.
Ebbtide Gallery, 7809 Pioneer Way. Now 20 years old, with 14 artists. 253-851-5293, www.ebbtidegalleryofgifts.com.
Northern, 1015 Fourth Ave. W. All-ages nonprofit art space with visual and performing art. www.northernolympia.org.