Already viewed as a thriving arts-friendly town, could Ridgefield enhance that appeal by creating a community arts center where painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, composers could rent space to work, rehearse and perform?
Almost 90% of artists responding to a survey by the Ridgefield Arts Council said they needed a space to work.
“Do you have a need for space?” the arts council asked. And of 47 artists who responded to the survey, 42 said yes — 89%.
“This was purely speculative at this point,” said arts council chairman Mark Meachem. “…No actual location was discussed and nothing was firm.”
He added, “Many artists couched comments with, ‘It depends…’ because the location, the amount of light, and the cost would all be factors in making any actual decision, and we were offering no specifics in that regard.”
Conducted in late 2018, the survey was proposed by the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC).
The notion that local artists might enjoy having a shared arts space available — and that the town might benefit economically, particularly if it was near the town center — has been kicking around since the early discussions of what to do with the former Schlumberger property, if not longer.
“The ECDC wondered if there might be some opportunities to match available properties with some of the art needs in town,” Meachem said, but first it “wanted to get an idea if there was interest on the artists’ side of things.”
The survey results are based on 47 responses returned. It’s not known how many people received surveys, since the arts council sent the survey to every arts organization and individual artist on its email list — some 50 to 65 addresses, Meachem said — and asked them to share the survey with others in their organizations.
So, it’s not a scientific type survey. Still, it paints a picture — or sketches a mood.
Asked how interested they were in “renting a creative workspace in Ridgefield” — from studio, rehearsal, and blackbox theater space to office and storage space — almost 30% said “very interested.” Slightly more — 34% — said “somewhat interested.” That makes a total of 64% reacting positively. And 26% answered “not interested.” The remaining 6% were “neutral” or “somewhat disinterested.”
What would artists be willing to spend a month on workspace, including utilities? It varies. There were 43% willing to pay up to $200 a month, and 37% willing to pay in the $200-to-$300 range. Just 11% would spring for $301 to $500 a month, and just under 9% said they’d pay in the $501-$750 a month range.
None were willing to pay more than that.
The downtown area was the preferred location, with 68% saying the “ideal location” is an “in town, Main Street” spot, and another 26% liking “2 to 5 miles from Main Street.” Only a little over 5% thought “five miles or further from Main Street” would be ideal.
Asked if they would “pay less for locations not near downtown Ridgefield but still in RIdgefield” some 92% said yes, and 8% no.
Sharing space was a fairly popular idea.
Asked if they’d be willing to “share a rehearsal or studio space” 37% said “very likely,” and 23% “somewhat likely,” while 21% were neutral. “Somewhat unlikely” and “not at all likely” tallied 9% each.
Asked if they were interested in renting space in “a dedicated arts center in Ridgefield” and 21 of 38 responding artists —55% — said yes. Only seven, or 18%, said no. And 10 (26%) fell in the inconclusive category “depends/maybe…”
As for the amount of spaces artists want, 75% would be happy with less than 500 square feet — 36% said they needed 250 square feet, and 39% said 251 to 500 square feet. The 501- to 750-square-foot size was preferred by 11%, with 6% preferring 751 to 1,000 square feet and 8% preferring 1,001 to 1,500 square feet of space.
Asked what they required of the space they’d like, 17 said “studio space,” 10 said “natural light,” nine said “storage/shelves,” and eight said “rehearsal space.” Four artists also wanted “meeting” space. High ceilings, a sink and retail space were each mentioned by three responding artists. Two wanted “office space.”