By Shelly Prevost
Twenty-five years ago, in a little developed area of Richmond near the Richmond Bridge, Jim Wright started a storage company. Bridge Storage consisted of 762 units and was a successful business. He was eventually joined by his son, Jeff Wright, who, after fifteen years as a math professor, left the University of San Diego to help his father.
The storage yard was deserted with the exception of an occasional stray storage user, the Wrights and their Director of Operations, Daryl Henline, envisioned a remarkably different place. They recognized that Richmond was lacking in community and artist spaces and decided to experiment with transforming a portion of the storage area into creative workspaces for artists at affordable rates. They knew their value to the community was more than simply providing storage. Could they attract a new type of customer? Their efforts were rewarded as artists fleeing from high rent areas began to move in and form what is now known as the Bridge ARTSpace. With his father’s passing in 2015, Jeff to continues to grow the family business.
On December 2, 2016 a fire broke out in an Oakland warehouse, known as the Ghost Ship, which was a converted artist collective. A total of thirty-six people were killed in the fire, the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history. The unsafe conditions of the warehouse caused many cities to heavily scrutinize all such areas. Even though the ARTSpace did not have the same type of safety issues as the Ghost Ship, the city was still reluctant to allow it to continue. Through the sheer will of Jeff and Daryl, and with considerable investment to meet city requirements, the ARTSpace survived.
The difficulty now, as artists will attest to, is that safe, up-to-code art spaces become too expensive for the very artists they were created to help. It turns out more money can be made by renting the space for storage than as art studios. Jeff realized that a new business model was needed. Following the approach used to support small tech companies, Jeff created a coworker model where artists only pay for a portion of their space and share it with other artists. The ARTSpace, along with the larger community buildings at the Bridge, is now a thriving location where artists of all types regularly meet. Jeff says “This is the most gratifying thing I’ve done since teaching”. Jeff is planning a space for performances, yoga, wood shop, podcasting, and a maker space to attract a variety of artists. He wants the ARTSpace to be about community. Incorporating this idea is their slogan: We are Richmond.
The Bridge ARTSpace has sponsored art exhibits, music events, record swaps and a variety of cultural gatherings from New Year’s Day bell ringings to film screenings. The Bridge ARTSpace recently hosted Camille Zulpo’s annual KIDS’ ART Show, now in its fourth year. Art students ages 8 to 12 proudly showed off their work at the opening reception, including Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s granddaughter, Cecilia.
Additionally, the ArtSpace boasts a 30’ x 50’ film studio, with a 40’ x 20’ chroma key cyclorama. Known as the FILMSpace, this full featured studio has been acoustically treated, making it suitable for sound recording. More features, such as a commercial kitchen are being added to meet the full needs of a production. Terry VerHaar, the film studio manager, is working to make the FILMSpace the go-to location for filmmakers in the East Bay.
Jacob Clark, an abstract artist and longtime resident describes the ArtSpace as: “a place to bring your stuff and make it what you want. It’s a place you hear yes, not reasons why not”.