Do you ever play this game? Pull up next to an empty building and imagine what you’d do with it? The building could be new or old, modern or classic architecture. Brick, concrete, wood. Any building will do for the game: What would you do with that building? Could be a coffeeshop, a bookshop, a boutique. I love playing this game at traffic lights and afternoon walks. What was that building and what would I do with it today? Most of the time, it is a fleeting idea. Something that I entertain for the length of time the building is in my sight and forget until I happen to drive the way again.
But this building… this building sits empty in the middle of Clayton, a short walk from my office, and I think about it all the time. I love the brick building, the little center cupola, I even love the way it sits so low to the ground compared to the tall business buildings next door. It’s easy to miss when you are driving by, it gets lost in the skyline. Overlooked and forgotten.
But believe me, I know what I would do with this place.
I would renovate the downstairs storefronts for use by local artists (including me). One side would be a nice restaurant that served breakfast and lunch and good coffee, and then could convert into a meeting space for late afternoons and evenings. There is a great opportunity for daytime food service in Clayton (there is a high school nearby and lots of businesses as well as the county courthouse) so I think this is a surefire way to bring people into the location. Having reservable space for student groups or staff meetings (with coffee) also seems like a fantastic offering for the afternoons. And once people are in the store, the other side would be a large boutique for local art and goods. One idea might be to offer booths or space to artists in exchange for hours worked. This way, no money is really exchanged. I would love to have a way to show my art without having to spend money I don’t have on booths and space. But if everyone worked a few hours a week to man the storefront, that might help young and struggling artists get on their feet. Oh… and did I mention the coffee?
Upstairs I would transform one side to a personal apartment and studio. I’d love to have those front windows expanded and looking out over Shaw Park while I paint or write. One of the biggest things I find I need is space to put my paints and paper out for working. Not everyone works this way, but I find that if my tools are packed away it is difficult to get them out and start a project. The same is true with writing. To have the space… dedicated table space… for these practices would be amazing.
On the other side, I would split the space into two or three apartments and use them as part of a new program to encourage young artists to teach art in underprivileged schools. The idea would be that for two years, they would be able to live rent-free so long as they taught for twenty hours a week. Studio space would be in the apartment, so the remainder of their ‘work’ week would be for creating.
It’s a dream. It’s not something I think I will ever be able to make happen. But I love the dream all the same and wanted to share it with you.
P.S. There are a couple of fabulous buildings sitting empty across the street, if you want to dream with me.