Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

BTMFBA: artists and Los Angeles

BTMFBA = Buy the M*t*er F****** Building Already

Hewitt & Jordan - The Economic Function.jpg
The Economic Function, by Hewitt & Jordan, Billboard text at the corner of Corporation Street & Alma Street, Sheffield S3. 6 April - 20 April 2004.

The work 'The economic function of public art is to increase the value of private property' sets out to question the function of art in the public realm within the economic regeneration of post industrial cities. The image will accompany a text in a journal by Public Art Forum to be published later this year.

This work is the second part of a commission for Public Art Forum. It completes the project 'I Won an Artist in a Raffle' where Hewitt & Jordan presented themselves as a prize to the delegates at the Public Art Forum conference held in London in April 2003. This work is for Allia Ali a project assistant at commissions East who won Hewitt & Jordan in the raffle.

There is the long held trope that artists help to stabilize and rebrand declining and disinvested areas, only to get displaced as the areas become improved and more suitable for people not willing to put up with crime and other problems (Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change - Sharon Zukin).

It's true.  But it's also the way that market capitalism works.  And artists aren't particularly unique, just a different form of immigrant, like Somalis in Minneapolis, Vietnamese in Clarendon, Arlington County, Virginia, or Latinos in DC's First Ward, and comparable to how other disenfranchised groups, gays too such as in the Logan Circle area of DC, ended up in areas that at the time had low housing demand and therefore, even if only comparatively, low cost housing.

Because market economies tend not to value the production of cultural, social, and public goods, people who choose to make such goods tend to not make a lot of money.  So if a neighborhood becomes a valued choice, it is pre-ordained that people who make less money will lose out to people who make more money.

Tired of seeing articles about "artists" getting displaced, because the articles say the same thing over and over and over, I wrote "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," (and "The song remains the same: DC's continued failures in cultural planning"), making the point that what artists, arts disciplines, and independent retailers need are "community development corporations" focused on buying and retaining properties for artists, arts uses, and retail uses.

It's a follow up to the 2009 piece, "Arts, culture districts, and revitalization" which discusses arts-based revitalization, the difference between arts as production versus arts as consumption, and the argument that artistic disciplines need to produce their own comprehensive plans, rather than expect real estate developers to do it for them.

It comes up again because Hyperallergic, the arts e-letter and website, has an article, "Facing Displacement, Artists Host an “Eviction Parade” in Los Angeles," about what I think is a cool action by the Los Angeles Tenants Union, an "open studios" tour of artists soon-to-be evicted, because they can't pay rising rents.

Eviction Parade
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
Japanese American Cultural & Community Center
244 S. San Pedro Street
Downtown Los Angeles

From the webpage:

ALMLA: Artists’ Loft Museum Los Angeles celebrates the history of long-time artist-tenants who have been and are currently being displaced and evicted on the east side of Downtown Los Angeles, in an area now branded by real estate developers as the Arts District. We will celebrate, march, banner, float and parade from the Isamu Noguchi courtyard in Little Tokyo to ALMLA and 800 Traction, two of the earliest permitted Artist-in-Residence sites currently challenging their displacement and eviction from the neighborhood that capitalizes on their name. At 5pm we will depart from the Noguchi courtyard at JACCC, walk down 2nd Street to Alameda Street, and then south to ALMLA at 454 Seaton Street #1. Mounted at ALMLA is a retrospective of the work of 40 artists who have lived or worked there over the past 16 years. The museum is still occupied by long-time artist-tenants, and their five studios will be open for the event. After a brief pitstop at ALMLA, we will parade to 800 Traction for the finale, which includes a group show of young artists who are working with the senior citizen artist-tenants who are being evicted after 20-34 years of living at 800 Traction.
Also see "At the Artists' Loft Museum, Longtime Arts District Residents Are Refusing to Be Erased," LA Weekly.

But sponsors of the eviction parade such as the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation and the Wilhelm Family Foundation would have a lot more impact if they would buy, hold and maintain properties containing live-work studios, workspaces, and arts spaces, while offering permanently affordable rents.

It's the rare demonstration that gets commercial property owners to back off.  That being said, it's a creative idea--the "parade"--which will bring attention to the issue. 

But it's hard to organize and finance a community development corporation quickly, so unless someone like Eli Broad or David Geffen is willing to step in--and these two stalwarts of the LA arts community are focused on supporting high culture arts presenting organizations--it's hard to see a path for effective practice that will stop the evictions.

According to the Eviction Parade webpage:
The parade is part of this year’s Common Field Convening, a four-day event that brings together hundreds of arts organizations to explore the field of artist-run and artist-focused spaces and projects. It will directly follow a panel discussion on Evictions, Artists and Displacement, featuring Parker, Nancy Uyemura of 800 Traction, artist Robby Herbst, artist and curator Dulce Soledad Ibarra, and writer Julian Smith-Newman.
I would hope there would be a session on creating CDCs to buy, hold, and operate properties. Such a program doesn't seem to be on the program schedule of the Common Field Convening conference, which starts today.

Arts property initiatives tend to be focused on arts organizations and spaces, not on artist residences and live-work spaces.  Still there are analogous examples of buying, developing, and holding multi-faceted properties for cultural and social uses by nonprofits, including some housing initiatives:

-- Playhouse Square in Cleveland ("PlayhouseSquare stars in its own real estate revival," Cleveland Plain Dealer)
-- Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (Pittsburgh Cultural Trust maintains diverse real estate portfolio to support arts," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; "How the Arts Drove Pittsburgh's Revitalization," The Atlantic)
-- Gordon Square Arts District, Cleveland ("The Gordon Square Arts District finishes its $30 million capital campaign - and launches a new master plan," Cleveland Plain Dealer)
-- Penn Avenue Arts Initiative, Pittsburgh ("A Transformed Penn Avenue," Pittsburgh Magazine)
-- Creative Alliance at the Patterson, Baltimore
-- Seawall Development's creation of housing for teachers in Baltimore is now being exported to other cities (("A Baltimore Tin Can Plant Transformed into a Community Hub," Metropolis Magazine; "Union Mill development goes to the head of the class," Baltimore Sun)
-- Jubilee Housing of Baltimore ("Tax credits for affordable housing fund homes for artists," Baltimore Sun
-- SEMAEST in Paris. According to Next Paris ("Opération Vital'Quartier: pour le commerce de proximité à Paris!") so far the initiative has supported 372 businesses in more than 500,000 s.f. of space.
-- ArtSpace is a national organization that works with local organizations to develop artist housing, although they aren't always focused on building the capacity of local nonprofits and artistic disciplines in the places where they build housing
-- and the groups that are members of the Nonprofit Centers Network do similar work, creating "shared spaces" for nonprofits, which have similar needs, but may not be arts organizations ("BTMFBA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition")
-- Fourth Arts Block in Manhattan's Lower East Side

Also see "The quest for community-run commercial space," UrbanOmnibus.

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