Since being purchased by more than a year ago, the Van Dusen Building at 10th and Duane streets downtown has nearly filled up with all manner of craftsmanship through the Astoria Studio Collective.
On the ground floor, Glen Herman and his employees with Astoria Makers take on light-scale manufacturing jobs, such as hundreds of tap handles being shipped around the Pacific Northwest with Fort George Brewery’s kegs. Ceramicist Audrey Long is next door throwing pots. Upstairs, a diverse collection of writers, photographers, painters, a cartographer and a bag maker make their own hours.
Originally thought of as a membership-driven coworking space, the buildinghas transitioned toward a collective of studios and artisans separate in operation but connected by a mission of promoting art and creativity.
Herman and business partner Stephan Eiter acquired the building just over a year ago from The Harbor, a regional advocacy group for victims of sexual and domestic violence that needed to shed the property and save money. Astoria Studio Collective spent the past year building out the space into upstairs and basement studios, along with a retail storefront, workshop and ceramics studio on the main floor.
A main component of the building was to be a membership-driven, collaborative makerspace for light manufacturers, similar to others in larger cities. But the costs and staffing needed to make the concept work were too high, Herman said.
“We were going to have the elaborate membership program, but that will be more organic now,” he said.
Herman still runs Astoria Makers, a small manufacturing shop on the main floor taking on projects such as Fort George’s tap handles. He has gleaned his co-workers from Clatsop Community College’s historic preservation program and others interested in the building.
Lief Stewart, who is planning an electronics repair lab in the basement, said he was walking by the Van Dusen Building one day and became interested in the work going on inside. He has since joined the staff and has been working with Herman on other projects such as remote-controlled, experimental LED lighting made from laser-cut plywood.
“The eventual idea is to start my own business, with the studio backing that,” Stewart said. “I know Glen is very supportive of that entrepreneurial mindset around here.”
One of Astoria Studio Collective’s first tenants was Long, who opened her pottery studio over the summer. A potter for the last 17 years, she came to Astoria by way of Detroit and Miami. She was looking at buildings for her studio when she met Herman.
Long has helped build out the Van Dusen Building and enjoys the collaborative nature of individual tenants. “I think it adds a lot to Astoria to have a large cooperative of artists,” she said.
All but two of the 13 upstairs studios have been rented out to local artists and other professionals. Often the noisiest among them is Nick Wheeler, who rented a studio to make wax canvas and leather bags for his accessory company, Wheeler Bag Co.
“I learned to sew from my dad,” Wheeler said. “He makes boat covers and tents.”
Wheeler tired of being a graphic designer several years ago and melded his interests into an accessory company selling online and at stores around the U.S. Recently relocated from Portland, Wheeler was looking to take the business out of his basement and ended up renting a small studio fromAstoria Studio Collective.
“It’s really fun to run into other artists,” Wheeler said of the communal feel of the upstairs studios, complete with a lounge and kitchen.
When they started gauging interest in the Van Dusen Building, Astoria Studio Collective had a waiting list of about 50 people looking for space, Eiter said. After an initial walk-through, most of the spaces were rented out immediately.
“It’s a pretty good group,” Eiter said. “The idea was to have dedicated art space, but a variety.”
Astoria Studeio Collective is still finishing the basement, where artist Yoshi Moro has set up a painting studio. The group is also still looking for the anchor tenant to rent the building’s corner retail space at 10th and Duane streets, but is waiting for one who fits Astoria Studio Collective’s mission of art and creativity, Eiter said.
The upstairs studios of the Van Dusen Building will be open during Second Saturday Art Walk on Dec. 8 for the public to meet the artists and view their work in a pop-up gallery. Long is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and starting youth and adult ceramics classes in January.
Those involved in the building hope its creative juices will help draw more visitors to the western side of downtown, similar to the Astoria Arts and Movement Center.
“This building can help revitalize and get people to come down here,” Eiter said.