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Arts organization looks to support the arts in many ways. But the primary one on everyone’s minds these days is affordable housing.
“I don’t wanna build this thing and then charge fancy rents,” Robert Leather, co-founder of Space 4 Art, said Thursday at a community forum.
The longstanding nonprofit, which — as its name suggests — provides workshop and living space for artists, opened up its existing facility in San Diego’s East Village 10 years ago, but in 2016 drastically cut back its available studio space and the entirety of the gallery space after the building was sold. The Space 4 Art crew had already purchased a plot of land in Sherman Heights with the hopes of building its permanent home.
Approximately 50 curious community members and artists gathered in Space 4 Art’s original gallery location, now operated by The Sandbox as an event venue, to discuss updates on the new building and gather surveys and intent-to-rent forms.
“I don’t want to hear stories of you moving to Tijuana or Carlsbad or L.A.,” said Jonathon Glus, Commission for the Arts and Culture director, at the end of his brief comments.
Glus spoke at length to Voice of San Diego in December on his aims for the Commission for Arts and Culture, and reiterated last week the points he’d made then: Housing is essential to a culture ecosystem, and the mayor is committed to maintaining current levels of arts funding. While many would consider Tijuana or Carlsbad natural extensions of a metropolitan San Diego art scene, Glus’ comment illustrates a perceived need for a vital central arts hub.
The San Diego Housing Foundation’s Stephen Russell, one of several guest speakers, set the tone for the night, providing hard and critical data regarding the city’s relationship with both housing development and the arts.
“We are short about 75,000 housing units,” Russell said. And given that, unlike 50 years ago, when he first moved to San Diego, there is no more new land upon which to build, plus the shifting of development priorities and public perception of makeshift, DIY spaces, he said: “Naturally affordable spaces don’t exist.”
Russell, however, applauded Space 4 Art’s aim. “Here’s a chance to support a project that’s looking at the purpose, not the economic purpose, but the purpose of space and the purpose of culture,” he said.
Average monthly rents in San Diego are approaching $2,000, according to the Union-Tribune. Finding an affordable place to live — to say nothing of performance or workshop space — will determine whether individuals or groups can continue working on art full or even part time, or send them to another city.
During a slideshow that showcased the structure’s variety of live/work and work-only spaces, Leather — who is also the project’s primary architect — highlighted the rents for each unit. A one-bedroom unit with a large studio workspace and kitchen, plus a loft bedroom and bathroom and deck overlooking the city and the bay, would run $970 a month. The room erupted into applause. Larger or co-living spaces would mean different rates, of course. Several much larger units with internal elevators and other accessibility options would run over $2,000. Some work-only units, including larger, shared studios, will be around $330 per month.
Eventually, the conversation shifted to government-funded affordable housing programs. Space 4 Art is not seeking federally funded Section 8 affordable housing funding because it requires concessions that limit the ability of organizations to define “artist.” Or rather, it broadens the definition to include professions like nail art.
Space 4 Art Executive Director Jennifer De Poyen said she wants the artistic community in San Diego to self-define what counts as the art they’d like to support. The building, however, is designed for multidisciplinary use, with metal- and wood shops, sound-proof studios, an auditorium with proposed full-stage support (lighting, sound, greenroom, etc.), classrooms, pop-up gallery spaces, dance facilities and large event space.
Leather also pointed out that the rents — low for 2019 standards — are secured for the Sherman Heights building for remove ready, in three years’ time. Construction begins in a year and a half.