Creating Spaces for Artists to Learn and Live, Work and Perform

Art not only nourishes the soul, it also enables communities — and their residents — to flourish. A growing body of evidence shows that arts and culture are essential to supporting economic development, fostering health and well-being and contributing to economic opportunity.

Performer from the Beautiful Creole Apache Tribe of the Mardi Gras Indians at the groundbreaking of the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, LA.

Culture is an Economic Engine

The Dew Drop Inn, a hotel and music venue in New Orleans, Louisiana, that opened in 1939, was once the cultural mecca of the local Black community. As Curtis Doucette, who is spearheading the Inn’s redevelopment, recounts, “At a time when not everyone could enjoy every space, the Dew Drop Inn was a place where people could have a good time — and everyone came through here. Little Richard got his sartorial and music style here. Ray Charles lived here. Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Duke Ellington, Ike and Tina Turner …” In the 1950s, with legalized racial segregation in force, he continues, “White people would get arrested for coming to hear the music.”

Frank Painia (right), original owner of the Dew Drop Inn, speaking to a patron, likely in the 1940s.

The Dew Drop Inn is in the predominantly Black Central City neighborhood. Once a working-class area boasting a vibrant arts scene, it was subject to historic disinvestment, with the arts suffering in tandem with business. After years of decline, the Dew Drop Inn was officially shuttered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now, Doucette is leading a team to reestablish it as a premier music venue and boutique hotel. The Dew Drop’s rebirth will be catalytic for the community, the centerpiece of an effort to restore LaSalle Street as an arts and entertainment destination. Recently, the state legislature passed a bill supporting construction of the Dew Drop-America’s Rock and Roll Museum down the street. Doucette explains, “The bill went through with no opposition. Just like Black and White people wanted to enjoy the music together years ago, people on both sides want to see this arts corridor happen.”

That coalition of forces has extended to the financing. Doucette laughs, “This has the most financial partners of any project I have ever worked on. There are historic tax credits, New Markets Tax Credits, equity investors, BlueHub Loan Fund and Reinvestment Fund …” BlueHub supplied a $2.26 million loan to bridge committed funds from the state of Louisiana. “If it were not for BlueHub, this project could not have happened,” notes Doucette.

BlueHub staff members and partners celebrating the groundbreaking of the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, LA.
Culture is definitely an economic driver. In New Orleans, tourism is our number one industry.
Curtis Doucette CEO, Iris Development and Level Ground Development

Peer-to-Peer Collaboration Fuels Arts Education

SAY Sí student working on a painting in San Antonio, Texas.

Support and opportunities for young artists are valuable community assets. In the Westside neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, SAY Sí has been providing a broad array of arts programming to youth for over 25 years. Founded by a neighborhood association, it is the city’s only tuition-free, year-round arts education offering. A strong focus on peer-to-peer mentoring helps students develop critical leadership skills. Of vital importance in an area with a 40% poverty rate, 100% of SAY Sí’s students — the majority of whom are Latino and first-generation college students — graduate from high school and are accepted to college. Now, with a $3.6 million bridge loan from BlueHub, SAY Sí is renovating a newly acquired space to offer digital music production, journalism and culinary arts education — expanding on its goal to create a premier, inclusive, dynamic and nurturing educational environment for San Antonio’s youth.

Artists Need Space to Work and Live

Just as people in the creative economy thrive with access to mentorship and learning opportunities, they need places to work and live. BlueHub has invested in two such spaces in Massachusetts, ensuring that they are preserved under the stewardship of established partner organizations.

Western Avenue Studios & Lofts (WASL) in Lowell is one of the largest existing artist-studio complexes in the United States. Situated in a renovated historic mill building, the 250 studios have a vacancy rate of 0%, reflecting the current demand for affordable space; the accompanying 50 units of affordable work/live loft apartments not only support the arts but also help combat regional gentrification. In 2022, WASL’s founder sold the space to the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston, Inc. (A&BC), a 30-year-old nonprofit dedicated to empowering and supporting artists and small arts and cultural organizations. BlueHub supported the transition with a $3 million acquisition loan, adding funds to those from Eastern Bank, A&BC and the seller to help close the deal and preserve the affordability of the studios. A&BC’s larger goal is to create a cultural community development corporation that supports greater access to capital and addresses systemic inequities in the cultural sector by providing safe, affordable and permanent spaces where art can be made, rehearsed and experienced within the area’s diverse communities.

Artist Steve Njuguna working in his studio at the Western Avenue Studios & Lofts in Lowell, MA.
Artist Franklin Marval in front of his signature More Love is Okay heart design at his work space in Humphreys Street Studios in Dorchester, MA.

At Humphreys Street Studios in Dorchester, 50 artists and small business owners create jewelry, furniture, paintings, sculptures, graphic design, set designs and more. The space was established in 2002 by a small group of local artists. When the time came for the founding owners to sell the property, they reached out to BlueHub to help the tenant–artists purchase it as a community. Recognizing that the project needed an experienced developer who understood both the mission and the real estate, BlueHub introduced the artist community to longtime BlueHub borrower New Atlantic Development. In the three years that followed, the artists formed a new nonprofit called the Humphreys Street Artist Collective; garnered support from the community and the City of Boston; and received a $1.6 million acquisition loan from BlueHub to purchase the studios. The result: preserving a community and ensuring that critical affordable workspace exists in perpetuity.

Artist Nora Valdez sculpting a stone piece in her work space at Humphreys Street Studios.
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