If you put enough talented, creative people together in a small space, chances are great ideas will blossom, eventually leading to economic developments.
This is the idea that real estate developer Anthony Harper envisioned when he found an abandoned 19th-century cotton gin factory sitting on 12 acres of land outside downtown Atlanta.
Harper, who was inspired by economist Geoffrey West’s economic-innovation theories which attribute population density as the secret to exchanging ideas, wanted to transform the space into a model for arts and culture real estate development. He tells us that the brick buildings detailed with arched windows and doors reminded him of his former musician life when he performed in warehouses with bands.
“We saw potential in the space, we saw that density could cause job creation. If we could attract artists and small creative businesses to the property, we wondered if our strategies could create a pseudo-city,” Harper says.
Since its inception in 2008, The Goat Farm Arts centre, a for-profit arts incubator located in West Midtown Atlanta, houses more than 450 artists and is home to one of the most densely packed group of artists in the nation.
How it works
To get a spot in one of The Goat Farm’s 27 residential lofts, artists are required to submit applications for upcoming projects to a review board, which is comprised of five people, including Harper and his business partner Chris Melhouse.
It’s a selective process with only about 10 events making it through the review board each month. But if chosen, artists receive assistance for putting on a performance, including financial investments. The Goat Farm does not generate revenue from any of its programs, so if artists decide to charge, they retain all profits acquired.
Harper says that The Goat Farm is a business and about $150,000 is invested annually in Arts Investment Packages (AIPs) for artists, which includes direct funding, financial assistance and venue, marketing, management, logistics and aesthetics support that may be provided to performers.
This is all funded by rent received from the Goat Farm’s residents, which ranges from $350 to $5,000 monthly depending on the space.
“The word ‘investment’ is key for us. We want [artists] to have a different mindset,” says Harper. “We don’t want them to think they’re getting donations for free, because we actually do see a strong ROI in the money we invest in artists and performers.”
There is a wide range of ages and ethnicities at the Farm, including a 65-year-old and a family with one child.
Life at the Farm
A “typical” day at the Farm is not so typical, says to Andrew Tate, a native Atlantan who previously lived at the Farm. He currently works on the Special Projects Team, supporting the many diverse events and performances throughout the year.
“There are always new projects hatching, wrapping up, artists visiting from out of town and that’s part of what makes it great. You can probably expect to be woken by roosters and put to sleep by the rumble and squeak of trains passing by — but everything in the middle is anyone’s guess.”
The Goat Farm has also created non-art entrepreneurial ventures, such as food carts and other businesses needed in a pseudo-city. However, artists have the freedom to choose the projects they participate in. The Goat Farm has been careful not to establish a commune atmosphere, seeking instead to illustrate that the arts are integral to its business model.
In a state where per capita arts spending ranks 48th in the nation, it’s an unlikely place to witness an arts revival. But Tate says the results from the Farm thus far proves that the struggling art scene has a chance in Atlanta.
“We’re just one developer of one property, but we’re trying to show that arts is more than just entertaining value,” says Harper. “For us, artists are part of our mechanics. They’re part of our business model. At the Goat Farm, they drive our business, they drive our revenue. Without the arts and cultural programming, without them, the business does not work.”
Tate, now 27 and a matriculating law student, agrees that the Goat Farm is providing opportunities for artists to try things they couldn’t normally afford given the city’s limited grant money and philanthropic funding.
“It is a place to grow ideas.
Collaboration and innovation need a degree of chaos to come about, and the random collisions of so many artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and change-makers of all sorts foster an energy of possibility that has always been possible in Atlanta, but needed a place to regenerate itself,” he says.”The Goat Farm is a magnetic campus for the creative spirit.”
So far, Harper says there have already been out-of-towners who have decided to stay in Atlanta strictly because they have never seen anything like the Goat Farm. With a satellite location called Erikson Clock in development — this time, mixing artists with scientists — it seems like the Goat Farm will be at the forefront of transforming the art scene down South.
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