Part of May 2012 by

Placemaking in Santa Fe: Are We Artists or Monkeys?

About seventy people gathered on May 10th to hear Creative Santa Fe’s presentation on affordable live/work spaces for artists.  With the mysterious arrival of Artspace, Creative Santa Fe’s initiative to enliven Santa Fe felt a little more actionable than in previous years.  After all, as a young arts professional living in Santa Fe since 2005 (the same year Creative Santa Fe started), it is a little alarming that I learned Creative Santa Fe existed only one month ago.  Regardless, there were a number of agendas on Thursday night’s radar that may or may not be conflicting.

For a very long time, Santa Fe has attempted to keep “young people” in the city different.  In 1995, the city banned skateboarders and cyclists from the Plaza, inferring that tourists were more important than youth.  More recently, Russell Simon ran for City Council in 2010 in District 1 on a very strong platform aimed at providing opportunity for young people.  Although backed by The Reporter, his campaign lost to the incumbent.  With groups like MIX and AHA, the possibility of keeping young professionals here at the very least gets an organized voice and some fun mixers. With the revitalization of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, we can only hope that some of their über creative recent graduates decide to make Santa Fe their home.  Of course, more jobs in the arts would be helpful in accomplishing this, and so would affordable live/work spaces.

Which brings us to last Thursday’s meeting at the Lannan Meeting House with Creative Santa Fe.  Apparently under new leadership and chomping at the bit, CSF started its Santa Fe Series on the 12th with an event called Evolve or Die?  Marketed as “a sequence of events that promote dynamic conversations about the role of culture in Santa Fe, and provide opportunities to learn from other creative cities,” CSF is working to promote the series’ overall objective, the IF: Imagined Futures Initiative.  Check out their website for more on this.  Speaking of which, their website is crisp, clean and bright, with tons of pages and little orange links that form a labyrinth of information, mostly advocating something that nonprofits love to discuss: outreach.  Loaded with very small text, it speaks of an “energized approach” with words like “fostering,” “initiative,” and “imagine.”  Lots of talk with little proven action, the “Support Us” page finally offers legible text at a whopping font size of twelve.  Space allows the eyes to breathe while their mission seems clear—to raise money.  Dwelling on this slight of design, perhaps CSF looks sugarcoated but ultimately, is just struggling to get by just like us artists.  CSF’s slogan: Every City Needs a Dream.  Powerful, inspiring and spoken from the vantage point of someone young who believes in dreams, this catchphrase has that same evocation of change and promise that ignited Barack Obama’s platform of hope.  For the record, nowhere on CSF’s website does it specifically mention young people.  However, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to the growth and vitality of the region’s creative economy” would necessarily rely on youth for stimulation.  Aren’t we truly seeking to emulate cities like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco?

In comes Artspace, hired by CSF to consult on how to implement affordable live/work spaces for artists.  With a proven track record, Artspace receives sizable donations from ArtPlace, which is a collaboration of the nation’s federal agencies—notably the National Endowment for the Arts.  Artspace assesses communities, finds out their needs, and facilitates “Creative Placemaking,” which is exactly why they are here in Santa Fe and teaming with CSF.  Placemaking gains its momentum from the “Soho effect,” which proves that where there are poor artists struggling to get by, a spring of vibrancy (and gentrification) will follow.  Somehow, somewhere, someone is making money but we know it’s not the artists because they move out of SoHo into Brooklyn and then to Greenpoint.  ArtSpace wants to stop that migration.  A speaker on Thursday night said that 10% of artists’ total income comes from their art.  After living in an Artspace, that number jumps to an average of 40%.   Artists are the catalyst for positive social change and economic growth.  Like garden worms, their presence enriches the soil so cities should keep them in  their ecosystems.

As one of these young arts professionals, Thursday’s meeting felt like a benefactor that’s too good to be true.  The wealthy grandmother (Artspace) enters our community with that parent that’s never around (CSF) and together, promise the fruits of the land.  All we have to do is prove our worth.  Once we do that, us artists do what we do best—make art.  Like monkeys at the zoo, are we here just to make money for the city?  Like magic, about fifty of us may have the opportunity to live and work in a rent controlled studio that costs 40% of the initial market value.  Then, we make money, the city makes money, Artspace gains a piece of real estate, and everybody wins.

When asked how many people in the room were artists, almost everybody raised their hand.  To ArtSpace and maybe even Creative Santa Fe, this proves that if they build it, we will come.  However affirming a raise of hands, only about ten of those seventy people were under the age of forty and maybe out of those ten, a handful were under thirty.  It occurred to me that Thursday’s attendees were the very ones that may be funding CSF, in which case Thursday night was merely a fundraiser.  After all, who is Artspace and CSF marketing—the youth or the tourists, the artists or the art buyers? Who are the artists?  This brings me back to the initial crux of our beloved city—Where are all the young people and if they build it, will they come?

Feature Image Credit: Photos of mural by C. Whitney-Ward

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