BUSINESS RECORD | Creative Culture

Posted on Oct 6, 2017 in MAINFRAME News

Mainframe Studios sculpts out specific atmospheres for working artists

BY SUZANNE BEHNKE, Editor
Friday, October 6, 2017 6:00 AM

There’s no single way to establish a specific culture in the workplace — there are dozens.

That’s what the Business Record discovered when checking with Central Iowa employers and organizations on how they create specific atmospheres within their walls. In fact, we received so much input, you’ll read more about area businesses’ cultures in future issues.

For the first stop, we checked into the ongoing project of Mainframe Studios, the nonprofit group working to transform the former Qwest office space on Keosauqua Way into a permanent affordable space for artists. So far, up to 80 artists fill 65 working studios as the project continues in the 150,000 square feet over five floors.

In one studio, three sculptors share space and a kiln. One, Linda Lewis, moved in in July. She labored on a recent morning over hinges that she was creating and incorporating into a fascinating piece of a woman’s head. “Isn’t it a pretty space?” Lewis said.

And it is. There are muted lights, neutral-colored walls, loads of windows to allow in natural light, and industrial pipes and elements in the background. There’s nothing intrusive getting in the way of creating.

The design incorporated shared spaces. Collaboration is happening naturally, Director Siobhan Spain noted, with artists leaving doors open to their studios. One even organized a potluck recently.

The neighboring studios house the likes of commercial photographers, graphic designers, game developers and more. Some include artists who are forging careers in their creative passions after spending years in the corporate world.

“This first class of artists shows how careers are made by art,” said Spain. “We’re making this building for artists and their entrepreneurial spirit.”

Mainframe Studios didn’t happen overnight.

In 2009, local developer Justin Mandelbaum returned to Des Moines with the idea for the artists’ studio. He had experience with a similar project in Massachusetts that involved living space for artists, too. But, he said, that for-profit formula wasn’t sustainable.

The trend, Spain and Mandelbaum explained, is that artists move into an area, make it attractive and more economically viable with their presence, and then a developer comes in and buys out the spaces that artists had used. That displacement has happened in Des Moines with some artist workspaces being bought and turned into apartments.

Mandelbaum and Spain want to ensure that Mainframe Studios lasts for generations. Its financial backing and donations are structured to keep the space low-cost for the artists — $7 per square foot per year.

There’s still a ways to go, with the second and third floors of the four-story building still not built out. And donations are still needed.

“This is a business deal,” Mandelbaum explained as he showed a map on his iPad. It’s clear he’s involved in the details. He talked about the development’s history and how its financial structure will work.

“I wanted to do this for my hometown,” he said.

The building is still a work in progress.

Now there are bookings being scheduled for an event space, a wait list for the other studios that will be built out, and an open studio event on Oct. 21 from 2 to 6 p.m. to bring the community in.

The hope is to expand that to a monthly event.

“The goal is to basically do a farmers market for artists,” Mandelbaum said.

While he declined to say if he has creative pursuits, it’s clear Mainframe Studios’ culture for artists is his masterpiece-in-progress.