If We Build It, Please Don’t Come

I am interested to see that artists are gaining an increasingly sophisticated view of their role in gentrifying neighborhoods. Non Profit Quarterly reported on a gathering in Miami to discuss the issue.

According an article in the Miami Herald, there was a sense among attendees that

“Artists find themselves in the uncomfortable and confusing position of feeling as if they have become inadvertently complicit in driving gentrification, even as they are also being victimized by the trend.”

One of the big topics of discussion was that gentrification is happening so quickly now that artists aren’t even able to set down roots before they are displaced. One Miami non-profit art space has had four homes in six years. Another artist claims to have been “priced out of 10 neighborhoods on two continents, from New York to Paris to Miami.”

Artists are beginning to recognize that not only are they getting displaced by gentrification, they are taking long time residents with them and are now essentially seen as harbingers of doom.

Some who contributed to the conversation in Miami were openly hostile to the idea of artists entering their neighborhoods, perceiving them to be an intentional element of a gentrification effort known as Artwashing.

Sensitive to this, some arts entities are working with the community. The Herald article mentions that Opa-locka Florida listened to residents’ feedback and built a park before building an arts center.

There are also accusations of artists being focused only on themselves rather than the impact they have on the communities in which they take up residence. Thinking back, I have to admit that the earliest writing I did on the subject of gentrification was about how artists were being displaced rather than how the neighbors were impacted.

Though to be fair, many of the first places artists were inhabiting were abandoned industrial and warehouse areas rather than residential districts and gentrification was only largely affecting them. The impact of gentrification on residential areas may be comparatively recent, say in the last 10-15 years. If areas are becoming gentrified more quickly than before, it may also be the case that developers are identifying and exploiting trends in neighborhoods that much more quickly than they had.

In the past I have written about how arts organizations can’t be egoistical and think that if they build it, the audiences will naturally come without any effort on their part. However, there are cases when artists may build it and fear what is to come. (Along with their neighbors.) They may not necessarily benefit too much from the increased economic activity prior to being displaced.

I am interested to see what comes of this growing awareness of cause and effect. What choices artists and communities make to manage, mitigate or resist.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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