Artists nationwide are struggling to find affordable housing and studio space as housing prices and inflation skyrocket. Artists, who are routinely used as a tool of gentrification, also contribute essential work for the community that helps provide catharsis in times of turmoil. Many artists say they simply can’t create without affordable housing or studio space. Arts organizations are attempting to find a solution to the unrealistic housing and rental markets by creating their own housing, like PushPush in Atlanta, or by offering housing-specific stipends like in South Florida, where Oolite Arts announced an annual $12,000-a-year housing stipend for their artists-in-residence who are based in Miami.
“I went to school in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and after I finished my studies, I decided to move back to Miami. It is where I was born and raised. It’s where my family resides, and it’s where I draw a lot of my inspiration from my art practice,” Diana Eusebio, an Oolite artist in residence said. “I think there is a growing amount of opportunities when it comes to the arts, but a lack of sustainability when it comes to our lifestyle. There’s a passionate pool of people that are born and raised here that are choosing Miami, but they can’t afford to live here.”
Applications open July 12 for the 2024 residency at Oolite Arts. To qualify for the Knight Artist Housing Stipend as part of the Studio Residency, artists must show proof that they have lived in Miami-Dade for two years at the start of the residency in January 2024.
Organizations in other cities are also working to meet artists’ housing needs. PushPush Arts, an arts incubator that has been promoting and supporting the arts in Atlanta for 25 years, will offer affordable housing, art studios, galleries, stages, and community art spaces in an adaptive reuse arts campus. Residents can rent or own property in the arts complex, choosing between $600-900 a month in rent or $155,000 to own. There will be 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments available. The space is set to open sometime before the holiday season.
“I kept talking to people who were having a hard time finding rent … It started getting to be where a single apartment was $1,800, and artists’ support is pretty low in Atlanta,” said Tim Habeger, co-director of PushPush Arts. “So that’s what really got us thinking that if we were going to attract and retain artists here in Atlanta that we were going to have to do something about getting them living spaces.”
According to Habeger, the space was supported by Tapestry Development, a low-income housing tax credit developer dedicated to preserving low-income housing in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.
Without housing, artists are forced to find alternatives.
“Artists are often the vanguard, and then the victims of this gentrification tsunami,” said Colin K. Gray, who created the 2021 documentary “Unzipped: An Autopsy of American Inequality” about affordable housing in Venice, California. The film spotlights artist families who are struggling to remain in their neighborhood, which has since fallen victim to gentrification “They are part of the fabric of these communities; they helped make a place rich and culturally diverse and cool and vibrant, and then they’re often the ones who are [later displaced] because they don’t have that same kind of steady income as other people do. It brings up big questions about what is the value of art? What is the value of art and artists in our community?”
The average rent in Venice for a one-bedroom apartment is about $3,300 as of July 6, although average rent prices reached nearly $4,000 in May, precluding up-and-coming artists from being able to afford living in the community. In Los Angeles County, approximately 600,000 people live in households that spend more than 90% of income on rent. According to Gray, this is a rent crisis.
“We’re going to need to rethink how we make it possible for artists to remain in these kinds of communities like in Venice, California, and in Miami,” Gray said. “It’s very difficult to find communities where they can afford to rent and chase their art and their dreams and career.”
That goal is at the heart of the organizing work by artist Pangea Kali Virga. The recent closure of Fountainhead Studios in Little Haiti, an affordable studio space for 30 artists in Miami, has pushed Virga to organize locals to try to find a new space. Virga, who was paying $600 a month for a studio space in Fountainhead, has been working out of her studio in limbo until they are given a 60-day notice to evacuate the facility. When she heard the news that they would have to leave, Virga decided to form an artist cooperative and try to acquire property.
“There are so many artists who need studios, or at the very least want community,” Virga said. “We really want to make it accessible for people who can’t afford studio spaces all the time.”
Virga says the project is temporarily on pause while they strategize fundraising and organizing with other artists who will be displaced by the Fountainhead shutdown. Meanwhile, in Venice, Gray spent two years tracking the housing journeys of two artist families. One family was able to find supportive housing and shelter, and the other was eventually evicted.
“It was a really tough film to make because we were not only documenting the families, but then we were talking to different stakeholders in the community, some very pro-housing, some very resistant to it,” said Gray. “It was really sad and sobering to see the amount of vitriol that was directed at them.”
As Miami officially becomes the least affordable housing market in the country, the local artists who built Miami’s vibrant and diverse artist enclave are being priced out of their studios and homes and say living and working in Miami is simply not sustainable anymore.
Franky Cruz, a Dominican Republic-born multidisciplinary artist who was predominantly based in Miami, has been struggling to find stable housing and studio space for more than a year in the city. Cruz was part of a wave of graffiti and street artists who helped popularize the street art movement in Wynwood in the early aughts. But the once Puerto Rican neighborhood soon fell victim to a similar pattern of art-washing-based gentrification. Now, the neighborhood boasts some of the least affordable housing in the city with a median rental price of $3,950.
Cruz rented a studio in Little Haiti for years, but he decided he needed to move in 2021 after someone was shot outside the studio and his rent was increased. Neither condition was conducive to creating work for him.
“It’s kind of amazing that I was able to even make work in that environment,” said Cruz, who raises native butterflies as part of an ongoing project called the Vivarium Meconium Laboratory. “I was able to raise 3,000 butterflies during this whole process. I can’t imagine what I would have, or what I’m going to do once I find a place where I can have my own garden.”
After Cruz left his Little Haiti studio, the artist slept in his car for two weeks and camped for another two weeks in the Everglades until he could find another studio and housing space.
“It’s an interesting social experiment, going from living in your car to a tent, and even in that chaos, still making work,” said Cruz. “I’m not going to stop making artwork no matter what the situation is. It just doesn’t let me focus on my main body of work, which is the Vivarium Meconium Lab, which is still active but not where it needs to be.”
Cruz raises native butterflies inside of a geodesic dome he designed filled with other native and pollinator plants. Once the caterpillars become chrysalids, he rigs them above watercolor paper. After a week of metamorphosis, they emerge and release a liquid, meconium, which is captured in the watercolor paper as its own form of pigment. The result is an imprint of the butterfly’s journey of self-transformation before Cruz releases them back into the urban ecosystem where they will contribute to the cycle of life. But, without sufficient space, the dome is boarded up in a storage unit until Cruz can find a stable place to settle. Currently, he calls himself nomadic and is traveling outside of Miami until something stable materializes.
“I know a lot of talent that has left from the city that we would benefit from having here,” said Cruz. “I’m not the only one who is talking about leaving, who is leaving.”
misael soto, an interdisciplinary artist whose work is driven by community and the systems to which society is beholden, has been organizing artists through monthly meetings to address each others’ needs and support each other, including signing letters in solidarity with artists who have been fired from their institutions or are not being paid an equitable rate.
“Myself and a lot of other artists here have been paying attention and expressing certain needs that aren’t being filled by anyone and really just feeling like no one knows what we need better than ourselves,” said soto. “So, thinking about how can we best serve ourselves. It’s just a very classic kind of collectivizing mentality of strength in numbers.”
Their current goal is to create and conduct an artist census. Inspired by the Los Angeles Artist Census, spearheaded by Tatiana Vahan, soto hopes to collect data about the community’s needs. Vahan’s work studies artists’ experiences with affordable housing, income security, debt, education, and access to health care. LAAC also examines how intersectional identities pertaining to race, gender, age, queerness, and ability relate to disparities in quality of life and professional development among artists. The census found that in 2019, 16% of artists surveyed made $20,000-30,000 annually. Thirty percent of respondents reported they went without basic needs and necessities due to lack of funds in 2018-19. Of these respondents, 44% were transgender or nonbinary, and 42% were Black.
“In Tatiana’s words, a census can really shine light where there’s darkness. This is information that we just don’t have, and that is by design,” said soto. “Collectors, institutions don’t want the greater public to know how bad it is for us.”
soto has been carefully working on establishing a team that will help with outreach and another that will work on marketing and design while making sure the questions are thoughtful.
“These questions are prying; they can be personal, so we really want to get them right,” said soto. “Just knowing that something like this exists in a city where I haven’t heard of anything like this existing ever, at least that isn’t attached to any kind of developer or institution or grant … I’m excited that it’s finally happening. It’s given me a bit of faith.”