Tio Aiken

As the first Black female vice president at Artspace, Aiken is doing the work to make sure the experiences she had living in diverse artist spaces are replicated. Artspace welcomes artists of all disciplines and backgrounds to live and work in their facilities.

Since 1979, Artspace has been creating affordable living/workspaces for artists, cultural organizations, and creative businesses.

Artspace’s unique portfolio includes 53 projects across the country – with buildings in culturally distinct communities in Memphis, New Orleans, that opened last year; and grand openings in Honolulu, Hawaii; the Pullman Neighborhood in Chicago and the Ogala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota slated for next year. Despite Artspace’s national footprint, Artspace headquarters is based in Minneapolis. A majority of its development projects are located in Minnesota. Two of the company’s latest projects include acquiring the Northrup King Building in Minneapolis and the construction of the Northside Artspace Lofts.

As the new vice president of Communications, Tionenji (Tio) Aiken understands first-hand how critical living/workspaces are to artists and their families. 

“It’s a common perception that artist housing is unwelcoming or inaccessible to people of color, but that wasn’t my experience growing up in Lowertown. My dad (Ta-coumba Aiken), Seitu Jones, and his wife, Soyini (Jones), kept me connected to the Black artist community … and ushered others into the neighborhood as well in the ‘80s in ‘90s. When I started at Artspace my default vision of artist housing was inclusive, collaborative, and cooperative.”

As the first Black female vice president at Artspace, Aiken is doing the work to make sure the experiences she had living in diverse artist spaces are replicated. Artspace welcomes artists of all disciplines and backgrounds to live and work in their facilities. 

In addition to her role as the VP of Communications, Aiken is also the program director for the Rafala Green Fellowship program at Artspace. The program seeks avenues for intentionally bringing individuals with diverse cultural perspectives into the field of arts-based real estate development.  Aiken believes the Rafala Green Fellowship, as well as Artspace’s Immersion program key initiatives anchored in Artspace’s mission to create, foster and preserve affordable space for artists and arts and cultural organizations.

Aiken quotes Luke 12:48 as she reflects on how she’s making history within the arts-based company. 

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Aiken. 

As the woman responsible for public relations for a company with more than half a billion dollars in assets, she feels the “weight of accountability,” especially when it comes to working in historically marginalized communities of color. Aiken is actively working to ensure the work of the company reflects the best outcomes of the communities in which their facilities are placed. In an effort to combat gentrification and inaccessibility she wants to maintain strong community relations and open dialogue with existing community entities and create more opportunities to attract diverse emerging leaders to the real estate development field.

Artspace recently broke ground on the Northside Lofts building, 229 Irving Ave. N., in North Minneapolis, which is expected to be completed in 2021. The facility will house 100 residential units for low to medium-income artists. Aiken and her colleagues are working to ensure the facility prioritizes existing community members and incorporates equitable tiers of affordability. 

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