In Des Moines, mentioning painting a home’s brick exterior or shunning Hosta plants is like saying you too have thought about vandalizing the butter cow. Expect double takes, sideways glances, and dead end conversations. Threaten to paint a “Beaverdale Brick,” and you might as well give yourself up to the local authorities.
Ideally, home is where you live the way you wish to, or can, live. Think about the amount of freedom it extends. It allows you to be uniquely you.
A few months ago, I started helping my sister finish up a major home renovation in the North of Grand neighborhood. The 1913 home was in foreclosure sitting vacant for a year when Molly acted on her vision to resell it as a fresh, affordable urban farmhouse. Coming from a fine art background, Molly’s approach resembled that of fabricating a monumental sculpture, leaving no corner left untouched. Her noteworthy aesthetic sensibilities, unwavering pursuit of quality craftsmanship, and skill in reconfiguring layouts made it stand out among the available houses on the market. The home sold before the project was even done to a thrilled new owner, who was moving back to Des Moines after living in San Francisco for years. He spent several months looking at nearly forty homes in the area before fate brought him to our doorstep.
Molly’s approach is not unlike the inherent role many artists take in revitalizing neighborhoods. While she found a way to make it meagerly viable, financially, she took on a daunting project that most developers would run from, and she is motivated to create places where those looking for an updated urban experience can feel at home.
With talk lately of ways to support the creative class as the city develops on the wings of Des Moines’s growing notoriety, my ears naturally perked up.
In my experience living elsewhere in art-centered cities, whether in technology, tattooing, furniture, performance or even cultural administration, artists are commonly progressive risk takers, and they need places that inspire a bit of risk. They often choose risk over income to the benefit of the local economy.
If Des Moines is ready to acknowledge the value of supporting the creative class, and in a different way, why not give artists more power to influence the shape of this city? Pursuing housing or commercial options that go beyond local standards that are comfortable and safe to those who can afford it, and providing programs that lessen an artist’s building-related financial burdens, will likely inspire them to take ownership instead of merely readying areas for those more well off.
I have a personal motive in that I want to live where artists of all walks of life have confidence that the city has their back. We’re off to a good start.
Siobhan Spain is a freelance small business consultant, artist, and occasional home renovation contractor with Balen Blanken. Learn more about the urban farmhouse project at balenblanken.com.