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ArtCondo: A Sea Change for Artist Studio Space?

It seems clear that most artists working in New York City are in a bind

Photo by Katarina Hybenova

It seems clear that most artists working in New York City are in a bind. If you rent a work-only studio (even a fairly priced one) most artists face inevitable yearly increases. Market forces, taxes, and all the other costs associated with NY real estate can add up to annual rent hikes of at least 5%.

ArtCondo might represent a possible long-term solution for artists that can afford to buy into an ownership strategy. Owning your own art studio space is a novel concept. There are a few buildings in NYC that sell commercial coops and condos, but they are a rare commodity. A significant portion of commercial art studio space in the five boroughs is based on a rental market supplied by building owners that can’t convert their industrial property to residential status, and rent to artists as a way to bridge the zoning gap to residential. The rent rolls in most large artist buildings would take decades to cover purchase values that can run upwards of twenty million dollars. If residential variances were ever granted, developers and landlords could recoup their investments much more rapidly, but these higher values would almost certainly exclude artist studio spaces.

ArtCondo’s approach to this conundrum is to give creative artists a chance to control their own studio destiny. This can only happen through ownership, and would require many moving parts to coalesce.

The challenges are many; herding artists into a single building poses daunting obstacles. Never mind the financial and regulatory considerations, just imagine trying to resolve noise issues, use of solvents, dust from woodworkers, flames from welders, and the potential for a few cranky, idiosyncratic personalities to make life difficult for the rest in a very close knit community. But the upside is also very appealing. A lifetime respite from market forces (which would in fact work in the artist’s favor through the likely appreciation of their property), and a chance for studio stability free from the stress of dealing with corrupt or greedy landlords.

Initial participation in ArtCondo involves attending planning meetings, and joining committees that will divvy up projects such as design, and community outreach. There are contingencies for sweat equity discounts. The meetings I’ve attended have been productive and well run, but there can be distracting digressions, as artists tend to thrash through priorities without regard for parliamentary procedure.

This slightly messy mix of opinions represents a good cross section of the grassroots arts community, and leads me to believe that a diverse group of creative individuals could conceivably come together to realize the mutual and powerful benefits of networking in an ArtCondo community.

ArtCondo is Michele Gambetta’s brainchild. She attended the SAIC, and has worked her way up through the ranks of the NY art world by learning about and practicing real estate at Bond Reality in Manhattan. Her extensive entrepreneurial abilities are coupled with leadership skills that will come in handy when push comes to shove in this new venture.

There is certainly equity in the conventional rental market; an artist could rent a studio for a number of years before they spent the equivalent of a work space condo down payment. But the significant up front costs of buying real estate, are mitigated by the long range potential of a much less volatile ROI than a renter might hope to earn by conserving said capital for traditional equity markets.

That said ArtCondo represents a more risky real estate proposition then most if only because it’s never been done before. Whoever the pioneers are they will have to smooth out the kinks on their own. Of course they could also reap the benefits that investors get buying in early by receiving “insider pricing” discounts that might reflect sweat equity, and bypassing traditional developer costs.

Ultimately ArtCondo is really a social sculpture in the mode of Joseph Beuys’s treatise. Idealism has often found its roots in art movements. Perhaps the inevitable pressure of gentrification will inspire a group of determinedly creative people to bring the desire and passion necessary to successfully launch a new, untried endeavor.

Are you interested in ArtCondo? Sign up here to receive updates about the project. This is a guest post by Elliot Markell. Do you also have something to share with Bushwick community? Email your submission to the editor at katarina [AT] bushwickdaily.com

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