Capitol Hill Arts District: An answer to Displacement?

Capitol Hill Arts District: An answer to Displacement?

Photo:  OneReel Execuitve Director Chris Weber shares his feelings at the closing parting for V2, a temporary arts space on Capitol Hill (December 8,2016)

When neighborhood community groups and artists started the Capitol Hill Arts District, we thought of it as a tool to promote the arts on Capitol Hill and strengthen an arts ecosystem which has organically formed on Pike and Pine.

The last two years have shown that we are really working on an anti-displacement strategy.   In a neighborhood where so many arts organizations rent, their future on the hill is only as secure as the number of years (or months) left on their lease.

How do we keep the soul of the neighborhood when so many businesses and buildings are changing and space for the arts is becoming unaffordable?  The solution needs to be large investments to create new space and safely preserve what we already have.

A recent (albeit small) survey showed alignment about the greatest need.  The top three priorities named by artists: affordable homes, affordable studio space, and racial equity.

As rents continue to rise in Seattle, artists are more dependent than ever on older buildings. Often, the older buildings in the neighborhood are more affordable, and so it’s no surprise that they are homes to most Capitol Hill arts organizations.  Most of these are well loved homes, with character and rawness newer buildings have trouble matching.

The Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland demonstrates the risk in relying on under resourced spaces for the arts. Make no mistake: it’s rising rents that led to the Ghost Ship fire.  Artists without an affordable place to live or work are often driven underground, and into unregulated dangerous spaces.

The response to the tragedy of 36 lives lost in Oakland cannot be a witch hunt to close down arts spaces not in compliance with every regulation.   Thankfully, the city has already shown strong leadership in a more collaborative solution, one that works with artists. “I am born and raised in Oakland,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “I can’t tell you what a personal commitment I have to preserving and lifting up that unique and creative energy that makes Oakland, Oakland.”

Though in the works well before the fire, this week’s announcement about deeper investments in Oakland arts spaces is a model response that Seattle should consider.  The City of Oakland is working with local funders to create long-term solutions for affordable art space.  Seattle would be wise to further invest in anti-displacement and public safety initiatives in the arts.  Be they shiny new concert halls, or old warehouses, spaces that have city investments and proper funding are going to be safer, more secure homes for artists and audiences.