Artist Katharine Leigh Simpson welcomed a steady stream of visitors during the official grand opening celebration for Mesa Artspace Lofts on January 23. It’s the first Arizona location for Artspace Projects, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that develops art spaces, including artist live/work housing. Simpson leases one of 50 units, where her creative flourishes infuse everything from the kitchen to the bathroom. “It’s important to have your own space,” she says.
Before moving to Mesa, she lived with family and had a separate studio at Bentley Projects. Now, she can work and live in one place, which means more time for art-making. She’s already created an art installation for the Mesa Artspace Lofts courtyard, comprising several large-scale crystal-shaped sculptures she can set to glow as nightfall descends. Other pieces, from large-scale drawings to paper dresses, dot the interior of her one-bedroom apartment.
Some artists have studio apartments, and others have up to three bedrooms. Christine Cassano chose a two bedroom, and uses her small garage for fabrication. The garages were awarded by lottery, so not every artist has one. It’s a big change for Cassano, who used to work inside a small section of a Phoenix warehouse space shared with other artists.
“It’s really bittersweet being here, because I know Phoenix passed on this opportunity,” she says. Years ago, Artspace Projects considered bringing artist live/work spaces to Phoenix, but it never happened. “I’m really sad that I can’t be doing this in Phoenix.”
Even so, she’s embraced the Mesa Artspace Lofts experience. Artists share responsibilities for things like the community garden and art gallery by serving on various committees. Cassano chose the gallery and events committee, which put together a group show featuring works by Artspace artists for the grand opening celebration. “I’ve learned so much just from being here and collaborating with other people,” she says.
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Several additional artists opened their live/work spaces for the grand opening event, including Travis Ivey. He has a neat, sparsely-furnished bedroom with small desk upstairs. Downstairs, he’s got easels, myriad art supplies, and several works in progress. Sometimes Ivey paints sitting outside on a small balcony, where he has views of mountains, neighborhood homes, and the nearby Mesa Arts Center.
Ivey relocated from Phoenix as well, and admits to having mixed feelings. “I didn’t want to leave Phoenix; I go back and forth about it,” he says. Still, he praises Mesa Artspace Lofts for having beautiful spaces, and being affordable. But there’s something else at play, as well. “It’s already had an impact on my art practice,” he says. “I have more space than before, and I get to do more art.”
Even artists who don’t live there have gotten involved. Carmen Guerrero, a longtime Mesa resident and staple of the Valley’s arts scene, sat on the committee that interviewed artists who applied for space at Mesa Artspace Lofts. “I wish we had 10 more of these,” she says. “I hope it inspires other developers to incorporate more art, and work with local artists.”