Providence, RI

Contact Name
Cynthia Langlykke
Project Dates
2006 - current
Tags
Real Estate
AS220 has defied the odds in the non-profit world by expanding impact through creating values-driven policies, programming and space. The main elements of our approach to growth are:
1/ Values-based development focusing on Access & Equity
2/ Creating and sustaining an Alternative Culture in dialogue with the Dominant Culture
3/ Knowing the Community, Meeting Community Needs
4/ Visioning for the Future
In the last 6 years, AS220 has doubled its size, and impact, twice. Founded with Umberto Crenca’s spirited dedication to expanding the transformative power of artistic expression, AS220 has been tested and challenged, weathered four city administrations and two recessions, and has consistently proven its value through growing participation, programming and space.
How and why?
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The overarching goal has been to meet the artistic engagement needs of the broad Rhode Island arts community, especially those whose access to the arts is limited due to economic or other factors, and to use diverse original arts programming to enliven downtown Providence. Within this broad goal, some of the supporting goals have been:

• Build and sustain an Alternative Culture in dialogue with the Dominant Culture.
Create a culture of equity, access and opportunity for all RI artists and art audiences, celebrating freedom, welcoming diverse expression and breaking down our self-imposed socio-economic barriers. Engage with and influence the Dominant Culture.
• Increase arts activity and exposure.
Increase diverse art activity in the downtown area by providing ready and welcome access to performing and exhibiting opportunities;
• Build a strong residential community.
Build a downtown residential live/work artist community by providing a range of affordable housing and studio opportunities to artists within a mixed-use urban environment;
• Increase learning opportunities in the arts.
Increase arts practice by providing learning opportunities to the broad community of learners, especially to those with limited access, with a focus on marginalized youth.
Have they changed over time?
The goals have not changed, but the implementation strategies have adjusted according to changing market conditions and opportunities. The overarching goal of providing access and opportunity has continued to guide our supporting goals and strategies.
• Build and sustain an Alternative Culture in dialogue with the Dominant Culture.
To maintain equitable access, our programming and communications have adjusted to meet the interests of a changing community.
• Increase arts activity and exposure.
The demand for exhibiting and presenting opportunities has grown, as demonstrated by an approximate 3-year waiting list for our galleries, so our gallery program has responded by expansion from two galleries prior to 2006 to three galleries in 2006 and to four in 2010. Performing opportunities have expanded from one performance space prior to 2006 to two performing spaces in 2012.
• Build a strong residential community.
Based on local demand, our residential (live/work) community has grown from 12 units prior to 2006 to 26 units in 2006 to 48 units in 2010. Work studios have grown from 3 prior to 2006 to 7 in 2006 to 10 in 2010.
• Increase learning opportunities in the arts.
Based on demand and additional space, we have been able to expand learning opportunities throughout AS220 Youth, the AS220 Industries, and are now expanding educational programming within our performance and theater arts program.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Partners and stakeholders are:

Policy leaders and funders /
The City of Providence, especially the Department of Arts, Culture + Tourism, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Rhode Island Foundation, the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, Kresge Foundation, Surdna Foundation, the RI Department of Children, Youth and Families, the RI Department of Education, RI department of Labor, the Corporation for National Service, the Providence Downtown Improvement District.

Program partners /
Trinity Repertory Company, Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program, Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, Providence Youth Arts Collaborative, EAW (Eastern Acoustic Works), Johnson and Wales University, MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
The expansion of the original program and facility has happened in two main steps with the development of 2 mixed use buildings in downtown Providence, the Dreyfus and the Mercantile. Each building was located within three blocks of the original Empire St complex, underutilized and partially abandoned, presenting an opportunity for AS220 to expand programming to meet demonstrated community need. The main steps taken were building identification, preliminary program and budget, securing the development team of attorney, accountant, architect, development consultants, repeatedly testing and refining both the program and the budget, identifying funding sources, applying for and securing funding commitments, completing construction, increasing internal capacity in property management, leasing the building to full occupancy, re-locating and expanding AS220 program spaces, securing necessary resources, staff and equipment for program expansion, maintaining the leases and the buildings, completing regular reports for investors and funders, and stewarding the properties and the tenants for the long-term.
Have they been refined over time?
Some program improvements continue to evidence themselves. For example, the AS220 Industries identified areas of complementary programming and re-planned their management space into a single shared office adjacent to the program space of each of the three industries. Program synergies continue to develop that are increasing the quantity and quality of user participation.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
The major obstacles were developing a feasible financing scheme and securing resources to cover all the development expenses while maintaining affordable rents and program fees, building staff capacity and systems to manage expanded programming and the associated increased administrative responsibilities.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Dedication to our values and insistence on transparency helped to build shared community-wide commitment to the vision. Identifying and engaging expert partners, both paid and volunteer, helped to move the complicated process along a relatively straight and productive path. Solid relationships and direct communications with key partners helped to identify and access available resources.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1./ Know your community and your market, let programming and community needs drive development;
2./ Create opportunities for input from all of the various stakeholders, keep all communications open and transparent, develop community support;
3./ Fully understand all aspects of the implied responsibility, re-assess your board and staff for relevant expertise and invest in capacity accordingly, build a strong development team.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
AS220 has doubled its footprint twice over the last 7 years, going from 25,000 sf of program and support space prior to 2006, then to 50,000 sf in 2006, then to 100,000 sf in 2010. With each expansion, programming and participation have grown, along with community investment as reflected in our growing annual budget. With expansion in all these realms, our impact on downtown Providence has deepened.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
• The alternative culture has been expanded and further embedded in a sometimes odd and often wonderful productive exchange with the dominant culture.
• Activity and exposure have increased through program expansion, both in numbers of offerings, locations of offerings and numbers of participants. The numbers of artists served has increased approximately tenfold from several hundred to almost 3,000; similarly the numbers of users and participants and audience members has increased in a similar proportion from almost 10,000 to just under 100,000.
• The residential community has grown from 12 residents to 48 residents, representing additional arts resources and community engagement.
• Learning opportunities have expanded from under 100 youth to almost 500; the number of adult learners has expanded in a similar proportion.
Were there unexpected impacts?
Some of the unexpected impacts have been:
• Increased world-wide interest in creative placemaking à la AS220.
Calls and emails come in on a weekly basis asking for advice on how to create sustainable arts spaces. Founder Umberto Crenca has traveled within and outside of the country, including Canada and New Zealand, to share the knowledge and experience of 27+ years of creative placemaking. AS220 has hosted groups from around the country, and will be providing an administrative residency to visitors from New Zealand.

• Additional development investment in nearby properties.
A couple of recent examples are: 1/ the $30 million investment by international toy and game company Hasbro in the redevelopment of and relocation to a nearby previously vacant office building and 2/ a multi-million dollar investment by a local development group to transform a small, seedy, nearby hotel and strip club into an affordable boutique family hotel.

• Increased national and international artistic exchange with artists visiting from other states and countries.
Visiting artists have come from South Korea, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic and Cuba, among other places, to live and create art in the downtown community at AS220. Makers from France and Italy have come to AS220 to participate in Fab Academy, a now over-subscribed desktop fabrication program in partnership with the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.