The goal of this project is to animate key neighborhoods of Wichita, specifically under-utilized areas with high potential to become walkable, dynamic, diverse, and prosperous nodes of cultural engagement: significant stretches of empty storefronts and non-active streetscapes are the most obvious challenges. In what has become known as the Soho Effect, artists move into these depressed, and therefore inexpensive, corners of cities, and unintentionally but consistently build thriving and vibrant communities that begin to attract attention from the creative class. This then cues developers to purchase viable buildings in the new "it" neighborhood and renovate them into expensive lofts and retail spaces, which in turn causes property tax and rent to rise, resulting in the eventual displacement of the artists. This inevitable cycle of gentrification affects all cities, from the smallest to the largest (the Soho Effect is named for the transformation that occurred in that part of NYC in the 1980s); in fact, Wichita is experiencing this phenomenon right now, in its own Commerce St. Art District.
However, rather than perceiving this as a problem, the OpenStudios project intends to embrace the pattern as a tool to inspire development. We are connecting with owners of buildings that contain under-employed street-level storefronts; specifically, retail spaces that have proven difficult to rent. This unfortunate situation detracts from the walkability of our city and is self-perpetuating, as potential tenants have difficulty envisioning their business in a dusty, desolate room. Our solution is to place working artist in these storefronts, makers with productive practices who are willing to welcome interested passerby and engage with the community. The artists receive the studios for free, and the landlords donate the rent in exchange for an animated, attractive street-level presence.
OpenStudios covers liability insurance and utilities as required by the owner. If the space gets rented, our ultimate goal, the artist has 30 days to vacate their studio and may be placed in another OpenStudio if available. The artist is aware of this condition from the beginning of their time with OpenStudios: the studio is free, and in exchange, the artist must accept that the arrangement may be temporary. We will attempt, if at all possible, to guarantee a minimum duration of 6 months for each artist in each space.
The long-term vision for this project is to not only supply free studios for Wichita artists, but also to advertise the program outside of our community in an effort to draw more creatives to the region; for example, at art schools such as the Kansas City Art Institute, KSU and K-State, or even further afield. The cost of living is reasonable in Wichita, and the art scene is unusually robust for a city of this size. This makes Wichita unique, and OpenStudios is excited to capitalize on the resources we already possess to help our city become competitive on a national stage.
Our first artist, as of June 1, 2018, is Ellamonique Baccus, of Wisdom Tree Arts, and our first space is at 105 S. Broadway, on the ground floor of Broadway Plaza. Sudha Tokala, the owner, has been extraordinary generous in her support of the project, and we are grateful to both her and the building manager, Robert Schmidt, for their untiring patience and encouragement. Many thanks to the City of Wichita for their donation to this initial endeavor as well.
This project has been organized and underwritten by Fisch Haus' not-for-profit arm, Fisch Bowl, Inc. If you are a building owner interested in participating, or an artist looking for free studio space, please contact OpenStudios at email@example.com or via facebook, twitter, or instagram.
All the photographs on this page were taken at the original OpenStudio: Fisch Haus in 1992, as the artists were moving in to their new building at 524 S. Commerce St.