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Artists find a home in the arts district

St. Joe Lofts in the Warehouse District offer discounts to artists.

After moving from Austin about a year ago, multi-media artist Chriselda Pacheco thought she’d found the perfect New Orleans apartment, situated in a 200-year-old building on Dumaine Street, across from a witchcraft shop.

“It was everything you think of when you think of New Orleans … a statue of Venus in the courtyard, gaslights on the balcony,” she said.

Just as her lease was up, however, Pacheco helped another artist friend move into a brand new artists’ community – The Saint Joe Lofts – in the Warehouse District. And when complications arose, preventing Pacheco from renewing her Dumaine Street lease, the photographer/documentary filmmaker/writer joined her friend at St. Joe.

“It’s amazing to be a part of something that is so visionary,” she said of the 61-unit complex, 50 of which are reserved, at a discount, for artists. “To really be a visionary, you have to have a little bit of hair on your chest. You’re building it and hoping people will come. You’re going on a hunch, and you’ve got to put everything into that hunch, including your money, your time, your blood, sweat, tears and everything.

“In a way, the idea is art itself.”

Few people expended more of that blood, sweat and tears than local entrepreneur Eric Beelman. Beelman, who had a construction background and ran a roofing company until he was the victim of a shooting just after Hurricane Katrina (another story for another day), was approached by some out-of-state developers on how to revive what had become a dormant project on the site of St. Joe.

The original developer had envisioned St. Joe as a haven for entrepreneurs, with the main tenant being the non-profit business incubator Idea Village. When Idea Village could not wait any longer for the St. Joe project to get off the ground, they moved in somewhere else.

“When that happened,” said Beelman, a graduate of Isidore Newman School, “I took a couple steps back and thought about it, thought about that area and what that area’s really about. It’s not just the Warehouse District but it’s the museum district, it’s the arts district and it has some unique characteristics that make it a very unique and special place, and St. Joe is a gem right in the heart of it.”

A block off Julia Street at 923 Constance, the complex is just a block from the Contemporary Arts Cente; one of St. Joe’s buildings is next to the World War II museum.

Beelman also factored in a recent act of Congress that identified artists as a unique group with special needs when it comes to affordable housing.

“When I thought about that,” said Beelman, “I realized that this is where it needs to happen.”

Artists seeking to live at St. Joe must submit a working portfolio to a jury from the property management team, said Beelman.

“And it’s not just painters and visual artists. We have actors and actresses, someone in the culinary arts, and a couple of musicians.”

The goal for the décor, Beelman said, was to create a sort of “live-in art gallery,” and he commissioned designer Richard Coon to make it happen.

“He called and said, ‘just do your thing,’ ” recalled Coon, who described the finished product as having “kind of a metropolitan feeling to it. It’s a Warehouse District building, so we tried to incorporate the natural woods and all these reclaimed woods, and mixed it with the stainless steel pieces and the contemporary pieces and come up with a real casual but inviting atmosphere for the residents.”

St. Joe even manages to have an environmentally friendly aspect to it, as a small building in the courtyard is equipped with one of the largest solar banks in the country.

Aside from the excitement of finally having a parking spot in the Warehouse District, photographer and resident Meg Hall, 25, described the connections she can make with other artists – and their desire to get involved with one another’s projects -- as part of the excitement of living at St. Joe.

“There are models and actresses who live here, and those people are going to need head shots, and that’s going to be me!"

St. Joe and Rock 'N' Sake will be hosting a gallery night/open house from 6 - 9 p.m. Saturday night during Art For Art's Sake. Rock 'N' Sake will provide the food and the Rusty Nail will serve wine. Two New Orleans favorites -- Ricardo Crespo (who plays every Wednesday at the Columns Hotel) and Yojimbo (who can be found on Frenchman Street every weekend)-- will also be performing.

Journalist and filmmaker Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans life and people for NolaVie.

Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.