Affordable Live/Work Space for Artists Coming to Manhattan!
(No, this is not an internet scam)
|Formerly a school, this 1898 Gothic Revival-style building designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, a former superintendent of schools, will be converted into a live/work community for 90 artists and several community arts organizations.|
Imagine a place where 90 artists (spouses and kids, too) live and work, pay rents they can afford in a great neighborhood, and have office, rehearsal, and gallery space. Now add 10,000 square feet for local arts groups that further connect this art hub to the community. By 2014, El Barrio’s Artspace will be ready for its tenants. But it almost never happened.
Vacant since 1995, P.S.109, the 19th-century Gothic Revival-style school on East 99th Street was slated for demolition by the School Construction Authority (SCA). Fortunately, community leaders had a better idea. Harlem affordable-housing champion and City Housing Preservation and Development planner Ibo Balton introduced Artspace, a nonprofit developer and advocate for spaces for artists, to El Barrio’s Operation Fight Back, a community development organization with roots in East Harlem. The Trust made a $50,000 grant in 2006 to form a community advisory group for the project to involve local artists, residents, and nonprofits from the start.
“A real estate development model like ours was the only thing that could make this work,” says Artspace project manager Shawn McLearen. “There would have been serious community opposition if the school was knocked down, as would be the case if a developer sought to build luxury condos. We were assured that the SCA had no intention of rehabilitating a 19th-century facility for 21st century educational needs. Instead, a residential artist community brings multiple community agendas together, creating more affordable housing, preserving historical architecture, and fostering arts and culture.”
After solidifying community support, and a delay caused by the recession, the hard work of getting funding began. A second $50,000 grant to Artspace is helping the project’s architectural firm complete plans so that final approvals for construction can draw down federal, State, and local funds for historic preservation and low-income housing for this $52 million project.
As with any new affordable housing project in the City, all applicants must have qualifying household incomes, and at least half of the units will go to artists currently living in the area. A selection committee will review and approve artists who apply. “Potential residents will need to show a body of work they are passionate about and a desire to give back to the community,” says Kelley Lindquist, Artspace president and CEO. “After all, the community gave them this space.”
“Outside of the obvious benefits, such as the affordable housing, artist live/work space, and the employment, economic development, and social benefits, this project makes an important cultural contribution to this vibrant community,” says Gus Rosado, executive director of El Barrio’s Operation Fight Back. “It represents a lasting legacy the Latino public will leave to Spanish Harlem. It says we were here, experience our culture, welcome!”
“In our 27 buildings throughout the U.S., the community of residential artists share with each other and with the larger community,” says Lindquist. “A painter might paint a backdrop for a theater event . . . Hip Hop dancers from a nonprofit in the building might be in a film produced by one of the tenants.”
This is Artspace’s first project in New York City but, we hope, not its last. Lindquist continues: “We see El Barrio Artspace as a demonstration project, and so does the City. It can serve as a template for affordable live and work spaces for artists. The next one would probably be in another borough.”