Downtown Condo Guys

Emily Knapp (Courtesy photo)
Art, East Village

Space 4 Art’s New Board President, Emily Knapp, Looks to a “Huge Year” Ahead

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

South Park resident Emily Knapp was recently appointed board president of Space 4 Art in the East Village. The nonprofit center, which was founded in 2009 by a small group of artists, provides affordable work-live spaces and art studios for San Diego’s creative community.

Knapp steps into Space 4 Art’s highest leadership role at a critical time, just when the organization is beginning to explore building a brand-new permanent arts center nearby that will replace its current, downsized rental home. The task will require an enormous amount of relationship-building, technical planning, and creative financing.

But with a prestigious “legacy program” designation recently bestowed on Space 4 Art by an international organization, plus supportive grants received over the past year, Knapp is confident Space 4 Art will achieve its goals. Additionally, her past experience working as a global business developer for an advertising agency certainly equips her for meeting the challenge.

Downtown Condo Guys: How long have you been affiliated with Space 4 Art?

Knapp: Formally I have been on the board for four years. But my relationship with it goes back much further.

When I moved to San Diego seven years ago, I set out to find a creative community. And I found Space 4 Art on the eve of their last public event in their original full space. What happened was on the following day they lost half of their space because the property was sold to new developers, and the rent was raised. The organization could not afford to retain all of the property, so we had to release some of it in order to protect the tenants and insure affordability. As a result, their footprint was reduced by two-thirds.

At the time, I was working as a freelance consultant for Sparks Gallery, and I knew Space 4 Art was about to lose some of that space. So I curated an exhibition at Sparks Gallery to raise awareness and money for them. After that, I was invited to join Space 4 Art’s board.

Downtown Condo Guys: What does Space 4 Art currently offer to artists?

Knapp: We now have six live-work spaces—four are co-living units—and 17 are work-only studio spaces. There is usually a waiting list. For the live-work spaces, artists pay a rent that is well below market rate – less than half the cost of average residential rentals in San Diego. Our work-only spaces are about 40 percent of the average cost of local commercial spaces. Just last year we saved artists in our community $185,000 in rental costs. And since we don’t have exhibition spaces anymore, we can only host open-studio events in the artists’ individual units.

Downtown Condo Guys: How is Space 4 Art funded?

Knapp: Very much by city grants, foundations, and individual donors. Most recently we received a $150,000 grant from Prebys Foundation that we’ll use in a number of ways, including to help pay for development and operations.

Downtown Condo Guys: Are you an artist? If not, what is your professional background?

Knapp: I consider myself more of a producer or a manifester – working with really brilliant and creative people and helping them achieve great things.

After graduating from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in communications, I went to Chicago and worked at an ad agency in a global business-development role. Through that role, I moved to New York to develop a branch office for the company. From there I came to San Diego.

Downtown Condo Guys: Tell us about Space 4 Art’s plan to build a new home?

Knapp: In 2014 Space 4 Art purchased a 20,000-square-foot empty lot on Market Street. It’s nearest to 26th Street and has a view of San Diego Bay. Since then we have been trying to find the right capital sources and development partners to build a permanent home.

The plans we have right now are for a dynamic multi-level arts center—a building that would have a theater, a gallery space, an education space, a wood and metal shop, and artist live-work studios. It would serve as an arts education resource center and provide cutting-edge cultural offerings to the region.

Artists bring a vital economic resource to communities. This isn’t something that’s just nice to have. The arts make life better and drive economic impact.

Downtown Condo Guys: What is the estimated budget for the arts center?

Knapp: I can’t really say yet because the projected costs are in a constant state of flux, which means that this year is all about coalition-building to accelerate this process.

Downtown Condo Guys: Did Space 4 Art recently receive recognition from a major multi-national organization?

Knapp: Yes, we are so excited to have received a formal designation as an “impact project” in the arts and culture category by The World Design Capital San Diego-Tijuana in January. They identified us as a project that can bring tangible, measurable outcomes that directly tackle regional challenges. This makes us eligible to be named a ‘legacy program’ in San Diego, and it gives us the opportunity to be elevated not only on the regional stage as an important asset to the San Diego-Tijuana community, but also on the national and international stage. It matters because we need to build a coalition of supporters, funders, civic leaders, developers and community members who will help us realize our goal of bringing a multi-disciplinary arts center to the Market Street lot.

Downtown Condo Guys: What other big developments, if any, have occurred within the organization?

Knapp: It’s a huge year for us because it is also our 15th anniversary. We’re expanding our board, and we will be taking part in four World Design Capital events starting in late April.

Downtown Condo Guys: What is your future vision for Space 4 Art?

Knapp: I want to see Space 4 Art in a fully owned, fully active home where we are truly cultivating the arts community by helping people launch their professional artistic careers. I want Space 4 Art to be at the center of that.