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.

Australia’s Last Poet Laureate Was A Convict?

Big news out of Australia where the first national arts policy since 2013 was announced.  In addition to commitments of funding to specific entities and organizations, arguably the most significant element of the policy is a commitment  “….to protect First Nations knowledge and cultural expressions, with a particular brief on cracking down on fake art that plagues the $250m-a-year Australian Indigenous art market.”

Other elements of the plan include the establishment of a poet laureate position which last existed during the country’s convict era,  a state of the arts report to be issued every three years, and the establishment of  “a quota for expenditure on Australian content by multinational streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan..” The amount of this quota is rumored to be about 20% and The Guardian article quotes people who are concerned streaming platforms may pull out of the country if they are required to produce Australia based content.

It happens that I saw a piece on Vice last night before I saw The Guardian article. Vice asked Australian artists what they thought about the plan.  Many felt the money was going to the usual suspects and advocated for a universal basic income plan for artists.

Others felt that the arts were unfunded in proportion to their footprint:

“The arts sector will get $286M over four years, or $72M a year. The fossil fuel industry gets $11.6B a year in government subsidies. Australia’s arts sector employs about six times as many people as the fossil fuel sector.

The requirement for locally generated content was cause for hope for some:

“I started to lose hope in local content knowing that reality TV filled up much of our “Australian” quota on broadcast networks. The possibility of streaming services now being made to spend 20% of their budget on original, local content honestly makes me feel hopeful and excited to pursue my career on my home turf.”

Make 2023 The Year Of Library Advocacy

Right at the end of the year, New York City based columnist for The Guardian, Moira Donegan, wrote a loving piece about how she is thankful for US public libraries.

One of the first things she mentions is that the architecture and design of many libraries is rather intimidating and makes her feel under dressed. She says when she works at tables in New York Public Library’s iconic 42nd Street branch, she is always nervous that someone is going to chase her away. I have written about how people can have a similar experience with arts and cultural organizations. Though many theaters, museums, and libraries are not as grandiose as the 42nd Street branch.

Donegan opines that the US is fortunate to have had the spate of museum construction when it did because it would be difficult to generate public will behind such an effort now. But citizens have garnered immense benefits as a result.

If the public library did not already exist as a pillar of local civic engagement in American towns and cities, there’s no way we would be able to create it. It seems like a relic of a bygone era of public optimism, a time when governments worked to value and edify their people, rather than punish and extract from them. In America, a country that can often be cruel to its citizens, the public library is a surprising kindness.


The majesty of library buildings is matched only by the nobility of their purpose. The public library does not make anyone money; it does not understand its patrons as mere consumers, or as a revenue base. Instead, it aspires to encounter people as minds. The public library exists to grant access to information, to facilitate curiosity, education, and inquiry for their own sake. It is a place where the people can go to pursue their aspirations and their whims, to uncover histories or investigate new scientific discoveries.

When I saw a tweet that NYC Eric Adams was requiring the NYC Public Libraries system to cut “cut their budgets by $13.6 million by the end of fiscal year 2023, and another $20.5 million over the next 3 fiscal years.” My first thought was that he does not truly understand the vast number of social services libraries provide to their communities. They metaphorically serve as the wetlands which buffer communities from the onslaught of hurricanes. Creating an environment where their role is diminished will only serve to magnify the manifestation of social problems throughout the City.

If you don’t know, this year make an effort to explore all the services your local libraries provide to communities from classes, computer access, tax help, shelter from the weather, social services access, counseling and, yeah, books.  Likewise think about your own value proposition for the community and increasingly communicate that outside the framework of selling tickets.


Tax Deductions For The Cost Of Being An Artist

Just before Christmas there was an article about Actors’ Equity union pushing their members to contact Congressional representatives about passing Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (PATPA).  This law would allow more artists to take the Qualified Performing Artist (QPA) deduction which is an:

“….above-the-line” deduction for specific unreimbursed expenses. (Above-the-line deductions are those subtracted from overall gross income to calculate an individual’s adjusted gross income — meaning individuals do not get taxed on such expenses.)…

The current QPA stipulates that those with an adjusted gross income of $16,000 (before these specific deductions) are eligible — an amount that has been unchanged since the QPA was first implemented in 1986. PATPA would increase this threshold to $100,000 for single taxpayers and $200,000 for joint filers, rendering many more entertainment workers eligible for the deduction.

Experts estimate that entertainment professionals spend between 20 and 30 percent of their income on work expenses — from agent and manager fees to headshots, equipment and professional development.

This law would also help other performing artists who likewise incur many personal expenses in support of their professional career. Drew McManus created a website with great visuals that tracked these myriad costs for string instrument performers in 2017 so you know the costs have only gone up since then and may be greater or just as great for other musicians, dancers, etc.

As I was looking to see if other performing arts unions were encouraging people to write their legislators, I discovered this is an effort that has been underway since around 2019. However, since the current Congress is about to end, there is a push to get the legislation passed. If you are interested in writing a letter, you can do so via a the form here.