The Arts District is in for a makeover, if the renderings posted on Main Street properties just north of Charleston Boulevard come to fruition. The plan is to demolish buildings there and replace them with free-standing structures that would accommodate restaurants, galleries and other businesses. The efforts initially drew ire back in 2013, viewed as pushing out artist tenants. So when those same property owners purchased Art Square for $3.2 million last month, someone mused, “Where should we move the Arts District?”
The implication is that maybe the arts have run their course in these parts, particularly with investors eyeing other Downtown properties. Now that the area is flourishing with pedestrian-friendly businesses, dining options, bars and the long hoped for coffee shop (Main Street hasn’t looked so polished in years), the landscape for galleries has changed.
About a decade ago when the Arts District was really gaining momentum, galleries exhibiting blue-chip work and emerging art-world stars were mixed in with small studio spaces and thrown-together efforts, painting a diverse scene dedicated to visual art. The short-lived condo craze and arena plan pushed some out and temporarily froze new lease opportunities, adding to the complaint that city code didn’t distinguish between a gallery and an art museum, a problem some saw inhibiting growth.
While other cities provide incentives for arts efforts because they help revive neglected areas, the Arts District has never had anything other than name designation, a few public art projects and support from the city in First Friday’s early years. With the area’s recent changes, its 18b Neighborhood Association is ceremoniously recognizing those who paved the way. President Marc Abelman is on a mission to protect the street art while exploring ways to keep purveyors of the arts there, championing recent efforts such as Downtown Spaces.
“As a neighborhood organization, we need to advocate for the artists,” Abelman says. “As we talk about this gentrification, how do you make sure the artists are included in the process? They are the reason the area has been marketable. Artists are always going to be nomadic. They’re going to build up areas and going to be pushed out. But why can’t we be different?”
Eshagh Kermani, one of the new owners of Art Square, says there are no plans to change its arts focus. Blackbird Studios remains on Commerce Street. The Arts Factory is still home to galleries and studios, but it’s up for sale. Regardless, as revitalization charges on, the Arts District will look, and feel, different.