Inner City Sanctums
The East Side's new Canopy studios aim to create a collective home for local artists
“My first thought when I saw the construction was ‘condos,’” Miguel Alvarez, a local filmmaker, says about the time he first noticed the new Canopy studio spaces going up on 916 Springdale Road. “It was such a nice surprise to find out what was really going on.”
While the development of new high-rise condos is an everyday occurrence in our city, affordable studio spaces for local artists are few and far between. That’s why the East Side’s new Canopy Studios, a 40,000-square-foot complex of three large warehouses, offering 45 studio spaces (starting at $500/month), three galleries, more than 150 parking spots and (in the near future) a café, is such a pleasant anomaly for local creatives like Alvarez.
“We wanted a broad spectrum of creative professionals to find a home here,” says Shea Little, co-founder of Big Medium, which will relocate their headquarters to Canopy and act as the site manager and anchor tenant. And besides a few limitations (there isn’t adequate infrastructure for welding equipment, and raucous band rehearsals would disrupt neighbors), it seems like any creative type could find a place here.
“Austin’s art community is so dispersed all over town, so we hope this will help anchor things a little." - Shea Little
The design of the sprawling complex (previously a Goodwill warehouse, Blue Genie Art Industries and the Blue Theater), was created by Jay Colombo of the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, with the intent of keeping the spaces affordable for artists, hence the chic, yet unfinished aesthetic of the industrial building, featuring exposed, raw concrete, open-aired breezeways and spacious courtyards with broad skylights overhead.
There might not be floor-to-ceiling windows with views of downtown, but since when do self-employed artists expect to get that with their monthly budget? There are windows of various sizes in almost every studio; there are less than 10 studios without direct sunlight, but they feature translucent, polycarbonate walls that allow light to stream in and warm the space indirectly.
There are still studios available for rent and, so far, scheduled tenants include local acrylic painter Daniel Arredondo, Emdash, Studio Slomo, Fine Blend Media, BILLY and Jack King just to name a few. (Ceramicist, Keith Kreager, who reserved his space at the beginning of construction was even able to install and customize his studio’s specific equipment from the ground up.)
“Austin’s art community is so dispersed all over town, so we hope this will help anchor things a little,” Little says. “And there are still opportunities for more development in the complex. I can see more and more arts organizations moving to Canopy. I really hope it can sustain itself as an arts destination and district of sorts without completely changing the area or losing diversity.”
Rather, the Canopy complex will seek to retain East Austin’s unique culture and existing sense of community with the eventual offerings of artist residency programs (free of charge), regular First Thursday events, more space for smaller, contemporary galleries and a weekly farmers’ market — perhaps in conjunction with an East Side neighbor like Springdale Farms.
Canopy presented its first of many onsite exhibitions on Feb. 9, featuring the work of Ricardo Paniagua.