In July 2019 – a pre-pandemic world – WLRN reviewed a brand new initiative for Broward County artists called “Zero Empty Spaces”.
We described it as follows at the time:
“Cities don’t like empty storefronts. They are not good for business, and tourists notice when there is a dark store in an otherwise bright row of stores and restaurants. A new initiative in Fort Lauderdale called Zero Empty Spaces invites artists to relocate to some of these empty stores, acting as an intermediary between artists and owners. The initiative is just beginning, and it is in a trial period on Las Olas Blvd. “
Two years and 20 more places later – the pandemic has not slowed the program down.
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Next to Gulfstream Park Racecourse there are rows of shops and restaurants. In the back by a Williams Sonoma, an empty store was turned into a cluster of art studios during the pandemic.
Jillian Blake rents 136 square feet in the boutique with high walls to hang her paintings.
She and 17 other artists each rent part of this store. And she’s one of some 200 South Florida artists who have taken advantage of Zero Empty Spaces over the past two years, according to property managers who run the program.
As part of this initiative, artists are renting space for $ 2 per square foot, regardless of where the empty store is located. The average rent a person pays is around $ 240 per month, for 120 square feet.
Thus, artists do not pay market rates.
Before Blake moved into her art studio in Gulfstream Park, she was working in her garage – without air conditioning.
“And then I was sort of sneaking into another room. And then I’d like to sneak into another room. And my husband said to me, ‘OK, how many rooms in the house have- you? “” she said. “And I said, you know what? Let me try to find some space for myself.”
She started renting this space in October 2020, after trying a few other Zero Empty Space locations and waiting for the one that suited her.
On Blake’s easel, just before the inaugural reception in person in August 2021, is a painting depicting a United States Marine Corps emblem: an eagle, a globe and an anchor in the colors black, white and Chestnut.
“It’s a bit messy because I needed the white to be perfectly white. And then where all of the brown is going to be actually gold leaf,” Blake said.
Her father was in the Marines, so she thinks of him as she works on this one.
You could say it’s unlike any of her other paintings, but Blake’s signature style is sort of this – she doesn’t.
“If I want to create a bunny because I was going down a rabbit hole tonight, I’m going to paint 17,” she said. “If I like Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she’s some kind of dope woman, I’m going to paint her.”
Zero Empty Spaces has opened a total of 21 artist studios over the past two years – mostly in Broward, but now Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties have locations as well. There is also a space in Sarasota. Of all the spaces, 12 are currently open and have active artists.
This is, in fact, one more studio than the leaders of the initiative who planned to open in that time frame – the sixth studio opened in March 2020.
This shows that the pandemic did not hurt the project, and maybe even helped. People were really want their own space.
“Just… you feel like a human. You feel like part of society and you do something where you can come out of your house and call a space your own,” Blake said.
Evan Snow co-founded Zero Empty Spaces with his partner, Andrew Martineau.
“The artists were really picky and yearned for the opportunity to come out of the house and create again,” Snow said.
In addition to the Zero Empty Spaces initiative to create affordable studio space, Snow also helped launch the # Choose954 marketing platform as well as the group that hosts the annual Water Art Fair.
The $ 2 per square foot fee that Snow and his business partner pay is used to cover liability, insurance, utilities, and things like artist receptions and marketing.
If a more permanent tenant shows up for a space, a property manager gives 30 days notice and the artists must move out.
Artists who use the spaces agree that it’s better to know ahead of time that you may need to relocate – rather than helping make the area more attractive just to get a prize.
“Fortunately, as we continue to open up more and more spaces, we are able to transition artists if and when the space is rented,” Snow said.
And this approach can have advantages.
“So maybe they take a seat here in Hallandale [Beach], but they live in Fort Lauderdale. And then, as we open up an upcoming space in Fort Lauderdale, they may be closer to home – a shorter commute, ”he said.
And sadly – or, luckily for the artists – there is story after story and a national pandemic trend creating more empty storefronts.
“Art has given me more fulfillment in my life without ever being an artist, never picking up a brush and never creating art myself. It changed my life,” Snow said. “And I really wanted to have those experiences in a place like Broward County, where I’m still proud to be born and raised.”