Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Yarn bombers Lorna Watt and her sister Jill find a creative way to store supplies at their new studio space on Claremont Street in San Mateo.
Lois Paul White displays one of her massive hand painted and drawn maps.
Artists thrive on inspiration and creative collaboration, so when publicly available art studios opened in San Mateo last year, it’s no surprise they were quick to fill.
What was once a warehouse, occupied by Samaritan House and a hardware store, 1515 S. Claremont St. was revamped into 12 art studios.
“They’re amazing. When we walked in our jaw dropped. There’s so much natural light and they’re huge and they’re really affordable,” artist Lorna Watt said. “They did a really good job remodeling them, and in a modern way.”
Watt is best known for her yarn-bombed squid tree on B Street in downtown San Mateo, along with other yarn creations throughout the area. She and her sister Jill know the struggle many artists face when trying to find studio space on the Peninsula, Watt said.
Property owner and real estate agent Brett Barron helped open studios at the Peninsula Art Institute in Burlingame and, after seeing how quickly they filled, said he recognized the need for creative spaces along the Peninsula.
He showed off the Burlingame studios to his friend Kevin Phillips, a Realtor at SC Properties, and when the Claremont location went on the market, the two were inspired.
“We toured Brett’s space and met a bunch of the artists and realized a lot of the folks were pretty passionate about this but didn’t have space to do that in outside of their homes. So we thought it was neat and that there was that demand and passion,” Phillips said. “It just kind of exploded from there.”
After SC Properties bought the warehouse in mid-2012 and invested more than $100,000 into it, the studios were filled quickly and there’s already a wait list, Phillips said.
Carol Aaron is a multi-media artist who works in wax and was one of the first artists to move in. Since the property has been revamped, there’s been no shortage of interested renters, Aaron said.
“Every time that I’ve put an ad in, it’s been the first person that’s answered that’s come in and taken the space immediately,” Aaron said.
Like Aaron, Watt and her sister had previously been working out of their home and struggled to find a clear countertop to work on until they moved in two weeks ago. Watt is the Downtown San Mateo Association’s artist in residence and said she was thrilled to meet local property owners who were interested in fostering Bay Area artists.
“It’s been really interesting to talk with the owner, why he turned this and one other location [in Burlingame] into art studios,” Watt said. “It sounded like a good investment, which is kind of counterintuitive but … it really supports the community.”
Lois Paul White’s massive hand-painted and drawn maps require nothing less than sprawling space. One of her pieces is on permanent collection at San Mateo City Hall, she’s working on another for the mayor’s office and a third will be shipped to San Mateo’s sister city, Toyonaka in Japan, White said.
“I’m so grateful for this space because of the camaraderie between artists because this is the first time San Mateo has ever had an art studio with this many artists and in a beautiful location,” White said. “I’m glad to have a space that’s large enough to make these massive maps.”
The studios are between 200 square feet and 250 square feet and run between $400 and $500 per month, Phillips said. The site was traditionally zoned residential but, with support from the property owners, it will become part of the newly formed nonprofit Claremont Art Guild and be submitted to the city as an approved use, Phillips said.
In talking with tenants of the Peninsula Art Institute and after getting to know those at Claremont, it became clear providing a place for artists to work and collaborate is a community benefit, Phillips said. Seeing this success, he’s interested in opening more studio space that would be suitable for metal sculptors, Phillips said.
Aaron said she previously didn’t know anyone in the artistic community but thanks to the studios has met a bunch of people and has even begun to show White how to work in wax.
“A lot of times artists don’t have the ability to talk to other artists. They’re solo or they’re in school or they’re on a commission project. So it’s really phenomenal to be able to speak with other artists and get feedback and see what they’re doing,” White said.
Watt can attest to the struggles of finding other artists with whom to pair. She often works with the DSMA and said they recently formed a nonprofit called the Downtown Art Project.
“We’ve been trying to find local artists and it can be difficult when you’re just using word of mouth. But when you find a studio, it’s a gold mind of artistic resources for the community,” Watt said.
Many of the Claremont studio artists hope to participate in this year’s Silicon Valley Open Studios so they can show off their work and their new digs.
The Downtown Art Project is also gaining steam and plans on creating a 300-foot mural for kids to paint and bring an artist from San Francisco to offer a street stencil class, Watt said.
Being introduced to a community of artists through the Claremont Studios helps further her passion to bring art into the lives of many, Watt said.
“We’re trying to build this connection with artists and the community,” Watt said. “We’re really trying to connect all aspects of the community with art and having a space where the artists are, is obviously really helpful.”
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