Artist Housing Can Be A Point Of Compromise…And That Isn’t Always A Good Thing

Back in February, Bloomberg had a story about a housing project proposed in an old police station in Silver Springs, MD where the desire for affordable housing and artist housing was bridged by Minneapolis developer Artspace. If you aren’t familiar with the organization, they work on/consult on artist housing projects across the country and currently have about 60 buildings running under their program. Not every project is residential. In some cases, they are performance and assembly spaces.

This includes the city in which I am currently living in CO. There is one completed building and another in the process of being renovated. I suspected I might exceed their income parameters, but I did inquire about an apartment before moving here and learned they had a five year waiting list.

In the case of Silver Spring, MD, as Bloomberg reports,

Completed in 2020, Artspace Silver Spring is a mixed-used artist campus comprising a four-story apartment complex with a total of 68 affordable units and 11 for-sale townhomes wrapped around a central courtyard. Each apartment unit is restricted to applicants earning less than 60% of the area median income, with preference given to artists.

The article mentions that construction of affordable housing which provides priority to artists is often a compromise position around which competing interests in a community can find agreement. However, in some cases studies have found that the screening process associated with artist housing projects can result in the residents being much less diverse than other affordable housing projects.

Artist housing, too, can be a form of compromise over subsidized housing: A 2016 study from the University of Minnesota found that several such developments had far fewer non-white tenants than than other kinds of low-income housing in the Twin Cities. In its application process, Artspace emphasizes a commitment to attracting “individuals and families from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds” — which shouldn’t be difficult, given Silver Spring’s ethnic diversity.

The 2016 study discusses some issues with Artspace’s screening processes which look very open on paper, but may perpetuate the selection of people who are like those on the committee. I was actually struck by the similarities between the descriptions of the resident selection committees and orchestra musician interview committees. While there is discussion of loopholes which entities like Artspace have been able to take advantage of, (teacher housing projects are similarly mentioned), there is also an acknowledgement that affordable housing projects are far more palatable to communities when it is defined for artists and teachers.

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 ( 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. (

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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