Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Artists as neighborhood assets

For the last decade or so, the arrival of artists in a gritty neighborhood has generally meant one thing: real estate developers were not too far behind. A classic example is the case of Wicker Park, once a scruffy neighborhood that became hip after attracting a slew of arts and music professionals, and now rivals Lincoln Park in home prices and general chi-chiness. The irony, of course, is many of the artists who once called Wicker Park home have now been priced out.

At the same time artists are seeking ways to live and work affordably, some neighborhoods are courting artists as community assets. Earlier this week, WBEZ aired a segment about artists in search of live/work space and featured the Chicago Lawn and Woodlawn neighborhoods as welcoming places for them.

Artists looking to find or keep a place to live got tips recently at the Creative Chicago Expo, which held workshops on buying a home, finding live/work or commercial space and preventing foreclosure. The expo also offered tips on how to get arts-related gigs with schools and win public art commissions, which help artists make money by helping schools and neighborhoods.

One local effort I know that has done much to integrate artists into the life of a particular community, is Voice of the City, which networks artists and community organization to produce art and arts education in Logan Square.

But I wonder how to interrupt the dynamic of artists arrive, put the neighborhood "on the map" to wealthier outsiders, then wind up unable to afford to stay. There's a national effort to answer this question: Leveraging Investments in Creativity, or LINC, which operates in Chicago and 13 other cities around the U.S>

As Adele Fleet Bacow wrote for the Chicago Artists Resource web site:

We recognize that in many communities, artists are being forced to become "developers by default," particularly in markets with high housing costs, limited supply of space, and/or areas where the space does not meet their unique needs. LINC is working to help artists find accessible information and support, to answer complex questions related to the development of affordable space.

I'll be interested to know what they find out. In the mean time, readers, if you have stories to share of artists who have been assets to their neighborhoods or creative ways artists have found to integrate into neighborhoods without sparking Wicker Parkian gentrification, post your comments here.

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