Artspace opens its glorious building for lucky winners

by Whitney Kimball on October 1, 2015 Blurb

If you lived here, you would be home by now

If you lived here, you would be home by now

El Barrio’s PS109 is a ginormous castle converted into a $52 million apartment building with fabulous amenities. Artists can live there for as low as $500 a month. Walking through the huge cast iron gate down a lighted walkway into the first floor gallery (which is above the two downstairs performance spaces) feels like touring a world class, unbelievably well endowed college, in the sense that there’s no way we deserve this.

It’s amazing. To kick off last week’s grand opening, yesterday evening Hyperallergic‘s Hrag Vartanian led a panel on arts and housing with Artspace’s President Kelley Lindquist as well as Deputy General Counsel for NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs Kristin Sakoda, and artist/curator/theater director and Artspace resident Monica Williams.

Inside PS109's first floor gallery

The view from inside PS109’s first floor gallery

Sakoda gave the basic rundown and numbers of the de Blasio affordable housing plan (this includes 1500 housing units and 500 live/work spaces for artists). Williams gave an enviable overview of her “fight of stamina” and how the stars ultimately aligned. Some of the neighbors were using the word “destiny,” she said.

PS109 is not destiny. It’s people like Artspace President Kelley Lindquist, under whom the organization has created 35 affordable arts facilities in 15 states since the nineties, raising $582 million dollars in taxpayer dollars, individual and corporate donations.

And it’s not a panacea. Lindquist says bluntly that when Artspace buildings are built, the organization warns people in the neighborhood to start talking to their City Council members about zoning to prepare for the “economic development” to come. Lottery systems are not a longterm affordability plan; ultimately Artspace buildings become “havens” while the area gentrifies around them. That problem is accepted as a fact of life, which is worrying.

It turned out that most audience members seemed to have come looking for housing; during the “questions” section, hands shot up, asking what freelancers would need to prove income, and whether this building was full, and where else to look and so on. This building is full, there aren’t yet plans to make another in New York, and this one took ten years. The odds aren’t as bad as they seem; Artspace says that out of 52,000 applications for the 89 units, only 5,000 were serious artist applicants. Serious or not, that leaves 51,911 lottery losers who now have, if not an affordable apartment, at least one more proof of concept for the next City Council meeting.

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