Sustaining Arts and Culture with Affordable Housing for Artists


It is no secret that the arts and culture sector has a significant economic impact on cities. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, the arts and culture sector directly contributed $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015. The sector also employed a whopping 4.9 million people. Indirectly, the sector also helps to create high levels of event-related spending such as dining at restaurants before attending an event. In this indirect fashion, the sector supports an additional 2.3 million jobs and generates $15.7 billion in government revenue.

Eliminating Creative Barriers

While some of these figures are due to sizable contributions from publishing, film and media industries, independent writers, artists and performers added $22 billion to the national economy in 2015. These figures grew an average of 2.8 percent during the previous three years. With more than 144,000 Americans falling in this category, there are definite benefits to supporting those within the creative sector.

Yet, rising rents for housing and studio space are creating a real threat in terms of growing the creative sector within many cities. According to a study recently conducted by the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, 76 percent of artists have stated that cost and space are their primary barriers for creating art. The growing obsession among developers to create office space from open-plan converted warehouses has also had a negative impact on the availability of studio rents.

Due to the rising costs of living in major cities throughout the country, many artists are finding that they are priced out of living in the cities where they perform. Failure to provide musicians and other artists with affordable housing could have a negative on the cultural economy of these cities. While popular belief states that artists create the rise in housing costs by drawing people to the areas where they perform, research indicates that the real issue is a lack of infrastructure for housing and studio space. The continued need to find new space has resulted in a failure to create the close-knit communities that are necessary for artistic development.

Addressing the Issue

To address these issues, cities are taking a variety of different approaches. New York City, for example, has announced plans to partner with nonprofit organizations in order to provide 1,500 affordable housing units for artists and musicians by 2025. Meanwhile, Nashville has introduced a program to help artists obtain low-interest loans when purchasing property. In Indianapolis, the Big Car Collaborative has created a housing model that will subsidize artist housing with the help of a local land trust. As part of the initiative, artists are being asked to contribute their time to community-revitalization efforts.

The national nonprofit Artspace is also dedicated to developing real estate for the arts, having opened 43 different artists housing projects since 1979. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Project in San Francisco subsidizes studio space for artists within high-end art storage warehouses. In Boston, as with these other major cities, it will take creative problem solving to find ways to ensure artists have affordable living space within the city.

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