Something New in Tremé

A national nonprofit developer of real estate for arts organizations is moving ahead with an ambitious plan to transform a long-blighted Tremé school property into a center of arts and culture for its neighborhood.

Artspace, which is based in Minneapolis, intends to redevelop the old Andrew J. Bell Middle School campus into a multi-faceted arts facility with 73 studio apartments for artists to live and work, and space for arts organizations, performance venues and community programs.

“The people who live here will be part of a community to preserve and promote culture,” says Joe Butler, the local manager for Artspace.

“People living here will open their doors to the community; that’s definitely part of it.”

The Bell School is a sprawling property covering two city blocks with a campus of six buildings, including an ornately detailed Gothic-style main building. The whole campus has sat empty since Hurricane Katrina and was deteriorating badly as the years ticked past.

But now local school authorities are using FEMA funding to stabilize and remediate the buildings, and once this is complete Artspace will begin its own redevelopment. That phase of the project is slated to begin in 2014 and take about 18 months to complete, Butler says. Arts and cultural organizations from around the city will have space in the complex and offer outreach and community programming.

“We’re just beginning to build the programming and as more people become aware of the opportunities I think more partnerships will develop,” Butler says.

The hope is that the project will bring an important community asset back to life and, in a neighborhood seeing tremendous changes, provide an anchor for the arts and the culture that has for so long been part of its identity.

“I think it’s fair to say artists influence how neighborhoods have developed and influence the real estate market but very rarely have been in control of the real estate they’ve been influencing,” says Butler. “Artspace gives us an opportunity to fuse things which are often thought of as opposite. We’re a fusion of the whimsical reality of arts, but in context of what it takes to do real estate.”

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