Tomorrow night, one lucky Fairfield County artist will win a rent-free year of studio space at Wilton River Park Shopping Center, as part of a program called Sprouting Spaces. The winning artist will be announced at a launch party in the prized studio space at 5 River Rd. on Saturday, Dec. 16, from 6-9 p.m..

The Sprouting Spaces program works to unite landlords that have commercial vacancies with emerging artists seeking space to work. Studios are reserved for a minimum 12 months, allowing time for the artist to create freely and achieve breakthroughs. These spaces must also invite the community in, so that citizens may engage in discussion and be enriched through exposure to art.

The program is sponsored by the Clementina Arts Foundation (CAF), a non-profit founded by Stamford art gallery owner Fernando Luis Alvarez (pictured, left, in the studio space), who says he was spurred to create the program by the idea that artists offer so much to society yet are little-valued.

He points to a study released in November by Artfinder that found that 75% of American artists make less than $10,000 a year, and nearly half make less than $5,000.

“This demonstrates that artists, so integral to how we frame the narratives of our society, lack the opportunity not only to grow, but also to live. This is why programs like Sprouting Spaces and landlords like Wilton River Park Shopping Center are so critical, because they provide a stable platform and relieve an artist’s crushing burden of having to pay for space to create,” he says.

The artist who will ultimately occupy the space will be granted more than just a place to work, but a place to grow, says Alvarez.

“The most challenging issue emerging and mid-career artists face universally is being able to afford space to create. With space, you will see an artist grow in both the creativity and intelligence of their work. It’s like the effect a fishbowl has on the growth of a goldfish–they grow to the size of the bowl you keep them in. Similarly, an artist can only grow modestly if they have modest creative space to work in. The more space they have, the bigger they can grow.”

Alvarez is grateful that Kimco Realty stepped up to help create the Sprouting Space being offered in the Wilton River Park Shopping Center. The space is a 2,000-sq. ft. storefront located next door to Cactus Rose Restaurant.

“Collaborations that are synergistic for communities wouldn’t have been possible without a proactive and willing landlord such as Kimco. Its team quickly saw the importance culture and the arts bring to a community, and the quality of experience within their complexes that it creates.”

To decide which artist would get to occupy Wilton’s Sprouting Space gallery, CAF put out a call in early November to emerging and mid-career artists living in Fairfield County. One artists will be selected from the six artists being considered.

“We got a great response but quite a number of artists were skeptical, believing there were strings attached,” Alvarez says. Submissions were reviewed by a panel of three judges–Alexandra Porter, an independent art adviser; Marisa Caichiolo, founder and curator of Building Bridges International Art Foundation in Los Angeles; and Eileen Doyle, curator of contemporary art at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Saturday’s launch party is open to the public.