Artist housing to the rescue

Putting up affordable artist housing near arts facilities helps the economy and takes advantage of the current real estate bust.
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ArtSpace's Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts project near Pioneer Square

Putting up affordable artist housing near arts facilities helps the economy and takes advantage of the current real estate bust.

Hat's off to the Ford Foundation for getting back into funding for the arts, right at a critical time. It has just announced plans for donating $100 million (over 10 years) to help in capital projects and refurbishing of arts facilities around the nation. Most intriguing is an initiative to help build affordable housing nearby, so artists can afford space — and walk to work.

Residential and work spaces for artists make a lot of sense. They bring life to neighborhoods, and draw people to them for the galleries, lively cafes, art walks, and other attractions. They are true urban pioneers. One problem is that once they discover and popularize a new area, and prices start to rise, they can find themselves bumped out of their neighborhood by escalating rents. Some developers, like ArtSpace arrange for artists who want to stay to be guaranteed for years to modest increases.

Ford was a critical force in creating the American regional arts renaissance in the 1960s and 70s, before curtailing it generous funding. Its new president, Luis A. Ubinas, has rediscovered the arts, and the urban ecology around artists. An article in The New York Times traces the discovery:

In addition to helping arts groups build new spaces and renovate and expand old ones, the latest initiative aims to encourage the construction of affordable housing for artists in or around some of these spaces and to spur economic development in their surrounding areas. Mr. Ubiñas said that during his travels around the country he had been astonished when he would visit an arts organization and find that 'ꀜall around it have developed whole neighborhoods 'ꀔ of artists and their families, of businesses that cater to them, of diverse people who want to live in a thriving community.'ꀝ

Another need is for retired artists' housing, since many artists do not have good retirement plans. Being artists, they would naturally prefer to live near galleries, theaters, and musical venues. That's why those thinking about the plans for Seattle Center need to keep in mind the value of affordable artist housing nearby, particularly if it creates a critical mass of artists. There are oddly shaped parcels of land, created by the clashing grid patterns in the area, that would make ideal spots for small arts-rich housing and performance spaces.

Other parts of town are also ideal for this kind of artist housing: Georgetown, Pioneer Square, the Freeway Park/ACT/Pike-Pine area, as well as a few land-locked parcels around Seattle Center. Other countries, such as England, also realize that artists make good tenants for several years in shuttered retail spaces. One can imagine that a temporary use of the Fun Forest building, if it isn't to be claimed by the Chihuly at the Needle folks, could be another way to keep the space active and arts rich until the Center has money to properly develop that key parcel.


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