Octagon hopes to draw community of emerging artists to add vibrancy to downtown Ames

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune

The Octagon Center for the Arts is turning its third-floor gallery into a working space for as many as 30 artists, a move that may inject a little vibrancy into downtown Ames.

It will be called the Octagon Artist Collaborative, and begin with a test run involving a half-dozen artists, according to Heather Johnson, the Octagon's director.

The Octagon is accepting applications from area artists on its website, octagonarts.org.

“The arts are a catalyst that shape a community, and we think this could really add energy and excitement to downtown Ames,” Johnson said.

Rhonda Scott and Kristen Greteman from the Octagon have been the architects of the project, almost two years in the making. They’ve spent time talking to artists about their needs and visiting similar cooperatives for ideas, including ones in Kansas City, Green Bay, Omaha and Des Moines.

“The energy when we walked in was amazing, and you could see the artists in the process of creating," Greteman said. "Being able to watch that happen was inspiring.”

At Main Frame Studio in Des Moines, “it was great to see how they were able to offer space to artists,” she added.

The Octagon provides Ames artists with an affordable creative space

The Octagon focuses on emerging artists, many of whom can’t afford to rent elaborate studios. Johnson and her staff are eager to provide an affordable creative space.

The Octagon Center for the Arts, located at 427 Douglas Ave. in downtown Ames, is reworking its third-floor gallery to become an artist collaborative.

Rental in the collaborative space will be $30 per month, with time commitments ranging from 2-5 months. Individual studio spaces will be available for $125, with similar time commitments. Use of the ceramics or printmaking studio will be available as an add-on for an additional $10 monthly fee for all artists involved in the Octagon Artist Collaborative.

Carol Barrick is a local artist who works with a variety of media, currently focusing on fiber arts such as wagon wheel rugs. She was excited to apply to participate in the collaborative space.

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“I don’t like to work alone,” Barrick said. “I really feed off of other people’s energy. I would have made a great quilting bee kind of person way back in the day where all the women worked together.

“I love to work with people. I love community. Just feeding on the energy and ideas of one another is so valuable.”

Barrick and her husband Denny recently moved to Ames from Nevada.

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“We’re in our 70s and I’m really excited about the possibility of working with other artists. I just have no motivation for working on art alone,” she said. “I think something like this is good for the mental health of the community as well.”

Johnson said she hopes to start the pilot program this summer.

The Octagon Center for the Arts is a non-profit located at 427 Douglas Ave.

Octagon staff getting creative with space on third floor

Exhibit space at the Octagon is important to artists, Greteman said, and they love to show their work at the Community Gallery, which is on the ground-floor level.

The third-floor gallery, however, is not well-liked due to its “overly large space, high ceilings, relatively poor lighting and third-floor location.”

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Instead, Octagon staff members have recognized the potential to use the third floor to impact the community by “fostering emerging artists as entrepreneurs via studio space and education.”

Johnson hopes the space will attract talent, which can energize a business area, which in turn can spur investment.

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“It’s about adding quality of life to the community, too,” Johnson said. “People want to get out and do things. Down the road, we can have open studio nights where the public is welcome to interact with artists, asking questions.”

Artists 'need a community of people around them,' which Octagon provides

Greteman said they’ve found that there are many artisans in the area who need to learn the business side of their practice.

The Octagon began offering conferences about the business of art a couple of years ago. Through conversations, surveys and focus groups, the Octagon’s idea of a co-working space began to materialize, Greteman said.

“The third floor is almost 5,000 square feet,” Greteman said. “It’s totally underutilized space, and this kind of co-working space is something our community of artists is telling us they need. And we can offer that.”

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The ability to collaborate with other artists is invaluable, she said.

“If you’re not an artist, maybe you don’t realize that artists often work in isolation, and that’s not how they really work best,” Greteman said. “They need a community of people around them that do similar things and that they can bounce ideas off of and spend time with.

“This is about more than offering space. It’s about fostering a community of creatives and giving them a place where they can work with each other.”