BTMFBA: arts uses in Greater Boston/Somerville, Massachusetts
There is an article in the Boston Globe, "‘Tension is everywhere’: In Somerville, a tech cluster emerges with hope and worry: Around Boston, tech grows at the expense of artists and small businesses," about the displacement of arts uses in Somerville, a suburb of Boston, as tech uses especially biotechnology continue to expand. Somerville is also complicated by a rise in demand due to improvements in transit service. From the article:
When it came time to renew the Asylum’s lease on 42,000 square feet of warehouse space it rented in an envelope plant off Somerville Avenue, Hasselblad Torres wanted a long-term deal. He said he offered to pay roughly $900,000 a year — a roughly 50 percent hike — but the building’s new owner, Boston-based developer Rafi Properties, didn’t show “much enthusiasm” for the offer. Later, a Rafi spokeperson said, the landlord offered a two-year extension at the Asylum’s existing, lower, rent, but said the Asylum was “not able to provide a guarantor” and could not move forward in negotiations.
Either way, talks fizzled. Artisan’s Asylum found a new home in Allston. And in December, The Engine, an MIT-backed venture capital fund with far deeper pockets, moved in to its old space. ...
It’s a question that has played out in neighborhood after neighborhood across Greater Boston in recent years as historic levels of investment have flooded the city’s tech scene, promising good jobs and more customers to small businesses but often pricing out some of the institutions that make a place thrive.
From Fort Point to Jamaica Plain to once-forlorn pockets of Cambridge, enclaves of artists and low-cost creative endeavors have been transformed by soaring rents for both housing and commercial space. Now Somerville is in the throes of it. “Tension is everywhere,” said Jessica Eshleman, executive director of Somerville’s Union Square Main Streets, in an interview. “The excitement and the optimism and the concerns and the worry — it’s all at the same time. It exists in the same moment, and in the same breath.”
A letter to the editor ("Artists can’t expect perpetually cheap real estate") in response says, well if you want to maintain uses, buy the properties, don't expect it to be given to you. He's right, stating:
Now is the time for artists to go to Holyoke, North Adams, Lawrence, and other places where real estate is more reasonable than hot Somerville. They could form co-ops, condo associations, or partnerships, and buy old mill spaces, old shopping centers, or even an old mall in Lanesborough, and divvy it up and use it for their needs.
If you want to control your future, you buy your space. Most other tenants understand this. Artists create things that inspire or challenge us or bring beauty into our lives. But to demand that private property owners be legally obligated to rent to them at a loss is not part of the deal.
but misses the point some, in that an average groups of artists and creatives usually lack the means to be able to raise such funds. They need help to do so.
That's why I argue for the creation of arts-use focused community development corporations operating at the scale of a city or a county, to take on such projects, to buy, hold and operate arts facilities including housing, to maintain their uses in the face of property price appreciation and displacement.
In a more cryptic way, I refer to this as "Buy The M***** F****** Building Already."
-- "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
-- "BTMFBA: Baltimore and the Area 405 Studio," 2021
-- "When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016
-- "BMFBTA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition," 2016
-- "BTMFBA: artists and Los Angeles," 2017
-- "BTMFBA Chronicles: Seattle coffee shop raises money to buy its building," 2018
-- "Dateline Los Angeles: BTMFBA & Transformational Projects Action Planning & arts-related community development corporation as an implementation mechanism to own property," 2018
-- "Seattle preservation: Pike Place Market, Neptune Theater, and the Cinerama," 2021
-- "A wrinkle on BTMFBA: let the city/county own the cultural facility, while you operate it (San Francisco and the Fillmore Heritage Center)," 2021
The BTMFBA argument extends writings about how artists, arts disciplines, and organizations need to "make their own plans" to represent their own interests.
The initial piece in 2009 didn't mention in a direct way the need to have community development corporations, although I'd written about such groups in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
-- "Arts, culture districts and revitalization," 2009
I updated the piece in 2018 to include that point.