A Wichita non-profit is working to turn empty downtown spaces into sought-after real estate.
The program, OpenStudios, pairs spaces with practicing local artists. The artists get to use the space for free with the intention of creating a more attractive space, making it easier for the building owner to rent.
“Potential tenants may not see them as exciting, active spaces because they have just been dark and dusty for years, so by putting artists in these spaces we are able to animate them and get some activity happening,” said Elizabeth Stevenson with OpenStudios.
Stevenson, 46, moved to Wichita from Paris in 1998. Since arriving in Kansas, she has made it her mission to leave a positive stamp on the Air Capitol.
“In a big city, it’s not as easy to be involved and make a difference and feel like you have a seat at the table and I think Wichita makes that pretty accessible,” she said.
Since beginning OpenStudios in 2017, the nonprofit has placed about seven artists in empty storefronts.
“I think it’s a great solution for property owners. It’s a great solution for the walkability of downtown or the atmosphere of downtown and also artists struggle to find studio space that is affordable,” Stevenson said.
“It’s been a godsend,” said Christopher Gulick.
Gulick, 60, is one of the artists who is currently using an OpenStudios space.
“This is a commercial example of what residential realtors do all the time when a house is vacant and the house is for sale, they put furniture back into it so potential clients can see what this looks like as a home,” Gulick said.
Gulick is currently working on a wearable sculpture project. He moved into the OpenStudios space on Commerce Street several months ago. Since then, he said he’s been able to stay focused and get more work done.
“Here I am just spreading out because we can. The front area has become a really nice display for some of my recent projects, to showcase these pieces as they are developing and to entice folks,” he said.
Both Gulick and Stevenson are hopeful the artists will entice more people to rent the empty buildings in downtown. If it proves successful, Stevenson said she plans to expand the program.
“As soon as all of the spaces are filled, we will go elsewhere and try to find more open studio spaces. I think downtown is kind of our initial goal just because that is the high impact zone of Wichita,” Stevenson said.
OpenStudios is organized and underwritten by Fisch Haus’ not-for-profit arm, Fisch Bowl, Inc., and is presented in collaboration with the Wichita Art Museum.