Filling empty real estate and finding homes for artists — that's the combination that made Manhattan's SoHo and Miami's Wynwood.
Now Fort Lauderdale's Zero Empty Spaces aims to connect creatives with affordable studios.
"A lot of times, artists go into these areas that have spaces that aren’t really expensive; then, over time, it gets more notoriety from their presence," says Andrew Martineau, Zero Empty Spaces' co-creator. "[They] increase the walkability of these areas, and then you have developers that come in, buy the property, raise the rent, and [creatives] are forced to find that next area. That’s the model across the country, which is why people are really interested in this initiative... Artists help grow cities."
Martineau and native South Floridian and Zero Empty Spaces co-creator Evan Snow have made a name for themselves throughout Broward County as art advocates and creative entrepreneurs. They have started culture and community-building initiatives such as Choose954, Art Fort Lauderdale, and FemAle Brew Fest.
In doing so, they've built relationships with locals. "If artists don’t have a market or scene or area to display their work or network [and] collaborate, it makes them consider leaving," Snow says. "We’re trying on multiple different fronts to foster a cultural community to help build the creative economy, which is just to help make it a better place to live and work."
The current iteration of artists-in-residence includes Rosanna Kalis, Steve Diossy, SURGE, Laura Ficorilli-Cray, Skirtzophrenic, Robert and Khadine Spruce; their work and styles are as diverse as the community they represent. Their spaces will not only act as studios but also be open to the public with free programs such as one-on-one studio visits and monthly art experiences.
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Zero Empty Spaces, of course, isn't unique. Similar models and programs have provided cheap studio space for artists. Miami's Wynwood was once a predominantly poor-to-middle-class neighborhood filled with warehouses. The same goes for Manhattan's SoHo. Both were transformed into thriving neighborhoods, largely through the efforts of developer Tony Goldman, whom the New York Times has called a visionary.
The Fort Lauderdale effort differs in that it doesn't rely on just one area. The goal is to introduce artists throughout the county to help revitalize areas by "bringing thoughtful [and] high-caliber art installations that accompany programs whose goal is to expand the audience of contemporary art." This, they say, might help mitigate some of the issues of gentrification that have plagued its predecessors.
And because Zero Empty Spaces takes on all of the risk and funding, artists can avoid the issue of city funding cuts. "We’re working directly with owners and developers," Snow says. "In other places, there’s a lot of city involvement and... red tape."
It’s easy to assume Miami — the home of Art Basel Miami Beach, Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the Rubell Family Collection — is the only hub for artists in South Florida, Snow says. Broward has been largely left out of the conversation. "This is my why," he adds. "I have lived here my whole life and started doing Choose954 because we never saw anybody say, 'Hey, I’m proud to be from Broward County.' So that’s why we took the initiative. Are we ever going to be Miami? Probably not, but we deserve a place for our creatives to be able to pursue their passions."