Charlotte Street’s Studio Residency Program was the 3rd out of 4 artsy stops on the National Main Street Kansas City Downtown Walk of Art. The artist residencies were located on the 6th floor of the Town Pavilion Building. Once we all got out of the elevator we were given brochures and I quickly snapped a photo of the donor plaques and motto: …WE CULTIVATE THE CONTEMPORARY, THE EXCEPTIONAL, AND THE UNEXPECTED IN THE PRACTICE OF ARTISTS WORKING IN AND ENGAGING WITH THE KANSAS CITY ART COMMUNITY.
Charlotte Street Foundation offers free rent for one year term to artists who are accepted. Pat Alexander led our group through a labyrinth of rooms housed by visual artists, writers and performing artists. The artists don’t sleep here only check in to do their thing during the day. The artist residency is a great use of space even though many professionals working on the floor above and below have never even heard of the artists who are there. It is tricky to try to get to this place since 6th floor access is denied at the stair tower entry and elevator door. So much for surprise visits to this place. I got off track, here we go on the tour… Further down the corridor there were rooms shut and locked with creative photos and stickers which gave the place a dorm room feel.
The writer was seated cross legged in front of the only piece of furniture which was a tiny table that came up to his chest. It was like he was channeling some spirits or something. He was very happy to have visitors and tried to do a selfie with all of us shoved in his room but we didn’t fit in there.
The writer’s neighbor was a musician with a fairly small room with a desk and synthesizer. The paint barely has time to dry before this artist will move on to further his career after making connections with other artists. This guy could very well make friends with the graphic artist down the hall and collaborate on a music label for his release.
We went through this place so fast I didn’t get this guy’s name but he was creating a sound track of cassette tapes turning on and off. Cool huh?
Pat Alexander, Charlotte Street Foundation
When I asked Pat Alexander, director of the Chartlotte Street Program, who pays for the lights to stay on he said, “Copaken-Brooks, that manages Town Pavilion, covers all the utilities with our below market rent. Which is huge for this program!”
Visual Arts Studio
Visual Arts Studio
Artists can easily interact with each other here especially during Open Studio public gatherings. Someone in our group asked if anybody big has come out of this program and Pat said one artist was able to expand on his art with a earthy studio in New Mexico which is hugely successful. I could see how this high rise idea could easily inspire an artist to seek a space with access to the outdoors. Pat proudly mentioned other start ups like a micro cinema called Stray Cat in the works in downtown Kansas City. It is so underground and cool that I cannot find a link, maybe wait a bit on that one. In the end, artists need to bump off each other, listen to music together and most importantly steal each others ideas. Kansas City definitely has it going on in the arts.
The National Main Street Conference, Going West Mobile Workshop was lead by Josette Fitzgibbons, Neighborhood Business District Manager of URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) a giant revolving loan funded by Federal, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh tax sources to support revitalization of many main streets when banks can’t fill in the gap.
Josette Fitzgibbons, URA guide
Going West Mobile Workshop
With just 6K people in 1 mile radius this tiny main street experienced a sharp decline when the railroad stopped coming through. Since the 1980’s it has become the community of last resort with numerous challenges. The average home can be bought for under $50,000 with 65% transient renters.
Missing teeth vacant lots at McKees Rocks
With generational poverty, 80% are single parents and 100% of the school kids qualify for free lunch.
McKees Rocks Main Street
Josette had a couple of developers along the walking tour who pointed out buildings poised for revitalization along Chartiers Avenue. One of the turn-around tours started at a 2 story building with a classic Corinthian column façade. Sadly, the building is used as a vertical land fill of outdated computers. Attempting to sidestep an incapable building owner, developers worked with lawyers to form a conservatorship, a judge appointed guardian over an impaired building owner.
Historic Building Used as Vertical Land Fill
The Roxian Theatre Tour
Next, the group stepped inside historic Roxian Theatre building along the 1/5 of a mile long Main Street. The original plans to renovate came in way over budget so the project stalled. The inside is a mess with dropped down ceilings covering historic filigree and exposed metal air handler ducts along the side walls.
The Roxian Theatre Building Renovation
Funding sources are in place for the Roxian, but there are operating challenges such as how to create affordable attractions in a hard scrabble neighborhood.
Little things link people together.
West End Village:
Josette’s hometown and 2 businesses that brought manufacturing to a stagnant Main Street.
West End is attractive to the working class who want peace and quiet. It is only 15 minutes away from downtown Pittsburgh and the building prices are affordable. One entrepreneur bought a 2 story historic brick building on the gateway of Main Street and completed a full loan revitalization. West End is in close proximity to the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Not only did he have to adhere to the codes of the City but the building owner encountered major flooding problems on the first floor.
Manufacturing in a Historic Building
Cutting in a Skylight
The Unfinished Look is Trending
The building owner hesitated when asked if he would tackle a project like this again. The result is an attractive working environment to design and build specialty machines and robotics. The tour continued to James Gallery a business wearing different hats to thrive.
Art Gallery, Gallery Rental for Events and Custom Framing
Beautiful Inviting Front Entry off Main Street
The property owner sat on 2 lots for several years before opening up the James Gallery in a historic 2 story brick building. The front of the building is open structure for the art gallery. The owner added ceiling hung flexible lighting and finished out the brick walls in drywall to accentuate the art pieces.
Art Gallery/Art Gallery Rental Space w/ Commercial Kitchen
It helps to have the commercial kitchen and restrooms in the middle of the space to make it easy to rent out for functions. A narrow slice of space behind the art gallery serves as custom frame shop.
Manufacturing Comes to Main Street
Custom Framing Comes to Main Street
The adjoining lot has been transformed into an outdoor overflow for gallery rentals complete with trees, metal sculpture and outdoor furniture.
Hidden Sculpture Courtyard Overflow for Gallery Event Rentals.
This main street has overcome challenges with severe flooding in 2004 and a pedestrian street close off in the 1960’s. This Main Street has a lot going for it in the short distance of 1200 lineal feet! Main Street extends further but looses the small continuous scale when the height of the top of buildings is broken with huge parking lot gaps and buildings set back from the sidewalk.
Carnegie Main Street Tour
Carnegie Main Street Tour
Small Scale is an Asset for a Main Street
Tell the Story Even When the Store is Closed
A historian walked with us detailing how Carnegie has always been a borough for tight knit ethnic groups. The were unique place to eat like Riley’s Pour House, Cafe Delhi and one-of-a-kind favorites like Bacn.
Bring Something Unique
Many of the historic buildings have been revitalized with dance studios, one single story building tucked in the middle of Main Street is The Flying Squirrel that is a nostalgic emporium where you can buy ice cream, candy and nostalgic toys like a 1970’s Chatter Telephone with the rolling eyeballs!
Nostalgic Shopping on Main Street
The Flying Squirrel has a great Facebook thread with updates on quirky happenings like Dr. Who showings and Harry Potter night. The signature event is the Carnegie Crawl every 2nd Friday of the month. Each crawl is different local businesses have special deals and refreshments and sometimes there is music in the streets.
Business owners who participate place a snail logo in their storefront window.