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Arts Entrepreneurship — Student Work

My student, Tom Bonner, and I would like some feedback on his project. It follows.

CR Spaces

Tom W Bonner

CR Spaces is a non-profit cultural and economic development corporation that acquires foreclosed on properties in blighted, neglected Philadelphia communities, renovates them, and then leases them out to burgeoning artists and arts and cultural organizations at below market rates. CR Spaces will provide fiscal sponsorship for eligible organizations. CR Spaces will manage and maintain all of its properties. When requested or necessary, CR Spaces will assist artists and organizations in finding effective third-party entities that provide capacity building and/or administrative support.

CR Spaces envisions one of the most diverse cultural destinations in the country, and an end to urban blight in Philadelphia. Instead of only going to Philadelphia’s largest cultural institutions, residents and tourists alike will have access to unique offerings throughout the entire city. Neighbors will engage with the arts in a way they have never had the opportunity before, right in their own communities, and in doing so will gain a greater sense of pride in their neighborhoods. The increased activity around CR Spaces will encourage greater public and private investment in these neglected Philadelphia communities, drastically improving the quality of life.

CR Spaces was created to address two challenges facing Philadelphia:

1. The explosion of the arts and cultural sector in the region in the last decade has been both a blessing and a curse. While Philadelphia’s reputation as a destination for arts, culture and heritage has improved, the marketplace has become over saturated with artists, eager to form their own nonprofits. Not only are there too many of these organizations for current demand, but frequently the founders and leaders of these groups have a limited understanding of how to manage nonprofit organizations. As a result, limited sources of contributed revenue are split among more organizations–at least some of which may not be properly equipped to put those resources to the most effective use. This swelling of the sector has also created intense competition for limited spaces to do administrative work, rehearse, perform, or present artwork. The increased demand precipitates a spike in cost, meaning that organizations dedicate additional resources to pay for space that otherwise might go to programming activities.

2. While Philadelphia’s heightened profile as a destination for the arts has been beneficial, much of that benefit has been restricted to affluent, wealthier parts of the city. While Center City is bursting at the seams with arts and cultural activities, huge swaths of the city, which include some of the poorest neighborhoods in the entire country, lack any access to the arts. These neighborhoods suffer from decades of neglect and blight. While some of the major institutions in Philadelphia run community outreach programs, or offer discounted tickets for admission, these efforts might easily be perceived by the intended populations segments as tokenistic. Regardless of outreach or discounts, if the building is too far, if the programming is inaccessible, or if the staff or other patrons are too dissimilar, many members of these neglected communities simply will not attend.

CR Spaces seeks to resolve both of these problems. By acquiring and renovating foreclosed, blighted properties, we make a physical improvement to the existing landscape. The next step, in which the properties are leased to artists or arts and cultural organizations at a below market rate, includes a curatorial process in which CR Spaces works with members of the neighborhood (business owners, religious leaders, home owners, renters, pretty much any interested party), as well as members of the philanthropic community to find tenants whose programming will reflect the neighborhood in which they are located. In doing this, CR Spaces creates spaces where neighbors have the opportunity to come together and engage with art that is affordable and accessible. In providing fiscal sponsorship for eligible organizations, CR Spaces helps regulate and nurture potential non-profit organizations that may not necessarily have the knowledge or capacity to manage that structure. Because CR Spaces is primarily a real estate development corporation with very limited programming activity, it does not provide administrative support, or leadership training. Fortunately, there are a number of these resources already in Philadelphia. CR Spaces works with those existing organizations to create productive relationships with tenants. Finally, CR Spaces maintains all properties. In doing this, we assume a significant cost, allowing tenants to dedicate maximum resources to fulfilling their missions.

CR Spaces will work with property owners (most likely banks) to acquire its properties. We believe that banks will be interested in donating these properties in exchange for the opportunity to remove the blighted properties from their balance sheets, and tax deductibility. Because CR Spaces engages in very little programming beyond the renovation and management of property, its costs and full-time staff are minimal. A reliable earned revenue stream to fund the maintenance of properties is expected from rental fees. In addition, CR Spaces will work closely with Philadelphia’s vibrant foundation sector and most importantly, seek the financial support of small business owners and other stakeholders in the neighborhoods where CR Spaces is active.


  1. Jim…this is a terrific initiative….it reminds me of Paducah’s work to restore housing stock with artists as well as ArtSpace has it figured out how to gain support for low-cost housing that includes HUD funding, as I recall, plus some local investment.

  2. Hello, Jim:

    I stopped by the blog to check it out after you were named one of the 50 most influential etc. I have been around long enough in NY to remember the salad days of arts service orgs that acted as fiscal agents for small arts groups and provided professional development for emerging arts administrators. I worked at the Cultural Council Foundation during the waning days of the CETA arts program and taught budgeting and financial planning to emerging performing arts groups back then.

    Philadelphia as a city has to make a commitment to dispersing the arts infrastructure throughout the city. NYC did this brilliantly in the 60s-80’s. My first job was to open the Bronx Museum of the Arts in the south bronx, formed directly as a result of NYC’s policies.

    The idea your student has is great, but it adds a layer of cost to an already thinly sliced pie. What is the value for this cost to the local arts group? Free accounting, free real estate services, free management advice? Unless this service org can secure preferential real estate pricing (a big if, whats in it for the landlords…do they think that arts groups are going to be more reliable tenants than a barber shop or bodega?) then the value add is kind of sketchy.

    Beyond that, what kind of task is the org taking on? Managing real estate, managing finances, maybe acting as the fiscal agent for an emerging arts group? This is pretty tricky and expensive stuff and it is hard to see how the org will capitalize itself without public money.

    Which circles back to the original point. If the Phila gov could support an entity like this as a strategy for disseminating the arts to the neighborhoods, then there could be some serious potential. I guess a major Philly foundation/company could as well. In both cases, this startup org is competing against existing programs, so it will take an adroit leader to avoid alienating the constituency it hopes to serve.

    Thought provoking stuff, I don’t mean to be discouraging just to engage in a bit a of spirited dialogue.


    Eric Siegel
    Director and Chief Content Officer
    New York Hall of Science

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