Vacant Library May Transform into Incubator for Artists

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February 15, 2015; Milwaukee Business Journal

After remaining vacant for over a decade, the former Finney Library in Milwaukee may receive new life. A proposal submitted by Finney Arts Incubator (LLC) plans to turn the vacant Sherman Park library into a space for a variety of artists to work and collaborate with one another. In addition to renting studio space to artists, a furniture studio and gallery space is also proposed. 

Led by master craftsman Matthew Bohlmann, the Finney Arts Incubator also seeks to preserve the historical integrity of the library, which was built in 1953 and replaced by new construction in 2003, through state and federal historic preservation tax credits. Bohlmann is also hopeful that a city of Milwaukee façade grant will be given to pay for exterior improvements to the building.

The repurposing of long-vacant buildings for spaces of artistic collaboration is not a new trend. Artist Theaster Gates has become renowned for this work in this area. Among the buildings Gates has rescued is the Stony Island Savings Bank. Originally scheduled for demolition, the bank is being transformed into a “hub for creative and cultural activities” while still maintaining the integrity of the building’s original architectural design.

Such revitalization efforts have a beneficial effect for the history and future development of communities. In making new use of long-vacant community buildings—albeit libraries or financial institutions—these renovations preserve the roots of the community’s aesthetic and cultural history. More still, historic buildings tend to have an intrinsic value that makes their preservation worthwhile. 

Along with the historic value, using such spaces for the furtherance of artist collaboration creates opportunities for future community growth, both economic and cultural.– Michele Bittner