Sustaining art in vacant storefronts projects

Government engagement

One of the key issues for sustainability that came up through all of Lauren's research was the importance of the government becoming involved with empty space projects.

“At all times in all locations a percentage of all property will be vacant, including government-owned spaces. In Chicago, there is usually more vacant spaces in the Neighbourhoods and, therefore, more of a need to attract customers to their retail districts. So the next question to answer is how to incorporate an empty space program into city government and city-wide planning.”

Artistic and community engagement

Just as importantly, Lauren stresses, is the need for these projects to have a curatorial vision and to ensure members of the arts sector and the community are contributing to the decision making - as in San Francisco - and not allowing government to have all the say in choosing projects and deciding how a space is used.

“My research has shown me how important it is to consider the space itself and make sure it’s part of the project concept for the best artistic outcomes. Store front spaces are not white cubes - like traditional galleries designed to display art - they're quirky and come with their own community.  Arts projects that use the shape and heritage of a space will come up with something really interesting and creative.” 

Measuring outcomes

What's also needed, according to Lauren, is to make the business case for empty space projects and not just relying on anecdotal evidence of their success or need.

“I would argue that we need to make the case for empty space projects as part of economic policy and cultural tourism development – to convince people that this is not just good for the arts community but for the business community,” she says.

“Currently there's little hard evidence anywhere in the world on how successful these pop ups have been in attracting visitors and new tenants. Not only are these very different kinds of groups getting involved, but they’re all pretty new and they’re developing their policies and procedures as they go.”

Sharing knowledge

Lauren believes that as empty space projects become more commonplace in place development initiatives, it will become more important to compare best practices so that empty spaces co-ordinators can think more strategically about what they are doing.

"In Australia that's happening with your Empty Spaces Project, but in the US it doesn't seem to be happening, says Lauren Rosenberg. "The projects I case studied for my project are growing based on doing what they think is going to work best for them. But I think they all have something to learn from each other and through sharing that experience people are only going to get better at this."