You’re a young artist with lots of talent but not a lot of money. Where can you live well and inexpensively? Only the very place that is revitalizing the downtown.
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Raye Jones Avery is excited about the prospect of some of her teachers being able to walk to work.
Jones Avery, executive director of the Christina Cultural Arts Center and a founder of the Kuumba Academy charter school, is talking about the new Shipley Lofts, which has created affordable housing for a community of artists in Wilmington’s downtown.
Shipley Lofts, only a couple blocks from Kuumba and exciting Market Street, is another piece of the emerging Wilmington landscape, one that continues the trend of creating a downtown where residents can live, work and play without having to commute.
Recently completed, Shipley Lofts consists of 23 apartments of almost 900 square feet each. Each unit has a studio-living room area, fully equipped kitchen and bathroom. The building also features a first-floor gallery for art shows and displays, which is used by both resident artists and artists from the community.
Shipley Lofts—originally a furniture store when it opened in 1918—is intended to be a hub for the social and commercial needs of area artists. Visual and performing artists are the target population, though occupancy is open to everyone. Monthly rent for a loft apartment is around $650, compared to as much as $1,200 for comparable units in other parts of the city. All 23 units were rented by June 2010, just weeks after opening.
“I’ve met a number of the artists living there,” says Jones Avery. “They bring a wonderfully vibrant diversity of age, ethnicity and artistic vision to the area. And yes, two of my staff are now residents there as well.”
The project developed to help realize Mayor James M. Baker’s vision of creating an artist’s colony in the heart of Wilmington. The property at Eighth and Shipley streets was transferred from Sts. Andrew and Matthew Episcopal Church, which wanted the building to be used in a way that would have a positive effect on the community.
Before the idea of an artist’s colony emerged, plans for the building called for SRO-type housing. The building was given to Interfaith Housing to develop it for single, homeless men. That project failed, so Interfaith returned the building to the church.
The high cost of rehabbing the building at first deterred investors. Then Tina Betz, cultural affairs director for the city, began discussions with the arts community about using the building as affordable housing for artists.
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