John Lamb, Published May 07 2013
VIDEO: A (creative) space of their own: Artists flourish with addition of downtown Fargo Spirit Room Studios
One answer, or rather 22 small answers have emerged in the middle of downtown Fargo.
On the third floor above the Swanson Health Products store at 109 Broadway, 22 former office spaces are now creative spaces for painters, printers, sculptors, ceramicists, a fabric artist and even a book binder.
The Spirit Room Artist Studios offer spaces ranging from $69 to $265 a month, depending on the square footage.
“It was an incredible opportunity coming out of college to have a space where I could work that was affordable and to be with a bunch of other creative people but still have my own private little world I could go into,” says Ashley Dedin. “I was worried that they would have all been taken because they were so incredibly affordable.”
A year ago, Dedin was just graduating from Concordia College and looking for a place to set up shop. The artist now uses her 104-square- foot space to house her necktie-making business, AENDEE.
“I know there are a lot of communal artist spaces in town, but what’s nice about this is that we have our own private little space and they’re all connected in this interesting way,” says Dedin, president of the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists group. “We’ve got a really good group of people working here. We have a lot of diversity.”
“A lot of people have told us they wouldn’t have studio space without us,” says Dawn Morgan, executive director of the Spirit Room, located on the second floor of the building to the north.
As a neighbor, Morgan noticed that the upper floors of the Swanson building had been largely unoccupied for more than a decade, largely because lack of an elevator made the long walk up undesirable for businesses. Morgan pitched the idea of converting the third floor into studio spaces and offered to act as the landlord. She says that since the studios opened in November 2011, there have been two evictions and both were for failure to pay rent.
Renters sign a yearlong lease and pay only rent, with utilities included. The spaces also have access to the Spirit Room’s WiFi.
While each artist has their own space, there is a kitchenette with a sink, a refrigerator and a microwave. There are also some communal spaces, former reception areas, one of which will show studio member Tara Zolnikov’s paintings as part of Thursday’s Corks & Canvas.
“I love that it’s like an artists’ commune. There is so much creative energy going around here. It really pushes your creative limit,” says Zolnikov, who is pursuing a doctorate at North Dakota State University in international development.
“One thing we missed about school was the community of artists you could talk to and bounce ideas off of and speak the same language,” says Annette DuBord, who attended Minnesota State University Moorhead in the 1990s.
The printmaker shares her space, called Funhouse Studios, with her partner Cameron Peterson.
While renters like the opportunity for camaraderie, not all want to relive the college atmosphere.
“This is more private without people waltzing by all of the time. You can focus more on your work,” says Nate Stensgard, a 2011 MSUM graduate.
In addition to the privacy these spaces offer, he appreciates having more wall space to hang his works and examine how they display.
Renters have keys to the building giving them 24/7 access, important since many have full-time jobs and have to use personal time for their art. There is also a locked fire door, and each studio has a lock for security.
“If the door is open, you say ‘Hello.’ If the door is closed, you leave them alone,” says Will Buchanan, a renter who helps keep an eye on the spaces, which he refers to as a “beehive” for the buzzing energy.
While most of the studios are taken by visual artists, there’s also a musician and a masseur among other tenants.
“When I moved in, I knew everybody else was a visual artist. I worried a little about being too loud since that was already a problem in my apartment,” says musician Ben Ranson, who practices his guitar in one of the smaller rooms that also houses a drum kit and a keyboard.
He attached used carpet remnants to the wall to deaden the sound he created, but some don’t seem to mind hearing him play.
“A couple of people hang out in the kitchen and listen from time to time,” he says. “I’m careful not to be too loud though.”
“Everybody has such different hours sometimes you go for days without seeing someone,” says painter Natasha Neihart, one of the first to claim a space in November 2011.
“It’s impossible to work at home. There are phones, computers and responsibilities,” she says.
“The lighting is good, the atmosphere is good, and I have everything out without concern about what people are going to get into,” says painter Annette Marchand, a longtime Spirit Room associate. “This is a nice escape.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533.