Tensions may still simmer where neighborhood revitalization and artists and the arts intersect, but when it comes to blight, block by block, creativity is often a good business proposition. Artists as a proven driver of property values were on display in a conversation between two very different ventures at a recent conference in Baltimore.
The first of those organizations didn’t start out devoted to the arts, but to Orange, New Jersey. Housing and Neighborhood Development Services, known as Hands, has been rehabilitating and redeveloping properties in Orange since 1986. In the two decades prior, Orange had first been gutted by an interstate project and then bled dry by the closure of the Rheingold brewery, which led to the loss of 700 jobs. One in 10 houses was vacant, over 400 overall.
Hands trained people, many of them homeless, in carpentry, and rehabbed nearly 100 of the worst properties in a bid to change perception and spur development. It worked. More investment followed, as did city support, and Hands continued to build and redevelop properties for homeownership. But Orange still needed jobs, beautification, recreation opportunities and more.
“It became clear that a concentration on the arts could reach part of all of those goals,” Hands Founder Patrick Morrissy said last week at the 2016 Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference.
ValleyArts, an arts advocacy spin-off of Hands, was born. Together, they’ve worked to develop galleries, performance art spaces, studios, venues, restaurants and more in the vacant factories of the Valley Arts District at the intersection of Orange and West Orange. To date, Hands has helped to develop over 100 permanently affordable arts spaces there. Hat City Kitchen, a restaurant and music venue, pays homage to the city’s history of hat manufacturing. The Luna Stage theater company moved to a former tool-and-die shop…