THE BUILDING in which photographer Andre Ramjoue lives and works has a grimy and sordid past, full of auto parts and toxic waste and even a celebrated murder. In 1977, Franklin Bradshaw was shot there, a murder that was later chronicled in two made-for-TV movies.
But the litter and the demons are long gone now. Ramjoue's photo studio looks out on a garden full of poppies and vegetables. His neighbors on either side, in fact all up and down the blocklong building, are painters, sculptors and performance artists.This is Artspace, which has been offering living and studio space to Salt Lake artists and their families for the past eight years, in the heart of the city's industrial west side.
The inspiration for Artspace actually started with a real estate problem: Salt Lake artist Stephen Goldsmith needed to find an affordable place to rent, a place where the landlord wouldn't kick him out if he made sculptures in the spare bedroom.
When he came up with an idea for a downtown artists' community, a lot of people said it would never work. "Those are the sorts of things that happen in San Francisco and New York, but it could never happen in Salt Lake City," skeptics told him.
But a decade later, Artspace is alive and well and continues to grow. Thirty-one artists now have studios in the renovated warehouse; 18 of the artists also live there. The newest tenants are Very Special Arts Utah, which promotes arts experiences for children and adults with disabilities, and the Utah Alliance for the Humanities.
Thanks to a community development block grant from the city, plus private donations, six new warehouse bays will be converted into living/working spaces this year. But even the new space will not accommodate everyone on the waiting list - a list that includes painters, sculptors, writers and even a few hairdressers who feel that what they do is art, too.
"It's easy to see the camaraderie of the people here," says photographer Ramjoue, 28, who has lived and worked at Artspace since last winter. Having artists as neighbors "gets the juices flowing," he says. The artists wander in and out of each others' studios and tend the backyard garden plots together.
Goldsmith is proud of the gardens, which flourish on an old railroad spur behind what once was the warehouse dock. The site, which used to also house barrels of toxic "tetrahydra this and tetraethylene that," says Goldsmith, now is alive with buffalo grass and yarrow and blue flax.
"We even have butterflies now," he notes. "We didn't even have flies before. There was nothing living back here."
Goldsmith, who is fond of metaphors, likes to think of the garden as Artspace, and Artspace as something bigger. "We've demonstrated that we can create the little seeds of a neighborhood," he says.
On Saturday, June 15, Artspace will celebrate its growth with a dinner party - including food, music and artwork - in the garden. Goldsmith calls it an "earthy and elegant" evening of contrasts.