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Art & Placemaking

painting a wall with spray paint

Every industry dealt with setbacks in 2020, but the arts industry is among the hardest hit across the country, with an estimated 2.7 million jobs and $150 billion in sales of goods and services lost nationwide as a result of the pandemic, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.

During regular times, art is a major economic driver, with the value of arts production in the U.S. hitting $919 billion in 2019, equal to about 4.3% of gross domestic product, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. And beyond the pure dollars and sense value, incorporating art is one of the top ways for builders, property managers, designers and architects to make a project feel personal, customized and reflective of its unique location.

Art is key to the act of placemaking, and it’s up to everyone in the commercial real estate community to make sure that the arts in Denver and Austin are meaningfully supported as we emerge from the pandemic, getting the industry back on its feet for the good of not only the artists, but the vibrancy of our cities.

We’ve already seen what a thriving art district can do for commercial real estate. In Denver neighborhoods like Five Points, the concentration of local artists created an eclectic, magnetic vibe that has drawn millions in new investment and consumer spending. Other areas like the Santa Fe Arts District, 40 West Arts District and the Golden Triangle Creative District, which includes the Denver Art Museum, have all created immeasurable benefit for the city and its residents.

For its part, Austin’s reputation as a mecca of local music is widely known, and is a big reason for the city’s growth in prominence on a national scale that has only continued exploding with the announcement of several major new office users heading to the city. Austin is famously home to the SXSW music festival, which accounts for an estimated $356 million in economic impact.

But funding for the arts itself can be hard to come by, and typical commercial space is often too expensive for artists to afford gallery or studio space. And often, arts programming is the first thing on the chopping block when projects need to reduce their budgets, as has increasingly been the case in the last year. But instead of cutting back on arts funding, this is where the commercial real estate economy can, and should, step in to help where possible.

In Denver’s RiNo Art District, the Museum for Black Girls, an interactive arts exhibit celebrating the history and culture of Black women, opened in February in a space owned by EDENS, a retail owner and developer with a commitment to community that helps guide its leasing philosophy. The benefit of Museum for Black Girls is two-fold, adding not only a fresh art experience to the area, but telling the stories of Black women and girls in an inspirational, creative way.

And over on Platte Street, two local artists are two-thirds of the way through a short-term lease in the historic Zang Building, owned by Unico Properties, that provided 4,000 square feet of new gallery space for local artists of all kinds, from painters to dancers. The space, called BRDG (pronounced ‘bridge’), brings art to Platte Street, providing an element that has largely been missing from the quickly redeveloping block in recent years as new office and retail spaces have regularly opened there.

Including art in spaces like these adds interest, culture and texture to a neighborhood and is worth investing the time, effort and sometimes real estate required. Everyone is ready to get back out into the world, but it’s important to remember what makes a place worth going to. Often, the answer is an experience that includes art.


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