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The Social Life of Artistic Property

Property Group

William Powhida

My contribution, "The Yellow Building," is a drawing based on the initial efforts of a small group of artists to talk about alternatives to the current studio situation facing artists in New York City. That effort quickly became tied up in broader discussions of gentrification in neighborhoods like Bushwick and Crown Heights. Despite the assignations of blame that often accompany discussions of workspace and housing in the city, the central issue still remains one of private property ownership. I wrote a proposal called "The Yellow Building" after meeting with a different group of artists brought together by Caroline Woolard around the concept of mapping. She wanted to work with artists who had mapped different terrain of the “art world” to explore how if functioned in a post-Occupy Wall Street era where income inequality had become a symbol of generalized social inequality. Over multiple discussions, property and its value became a common matter of concern for all of us and the focus of a publication effort.

After time constraints and professional pressures caused me to recuse myself from the group, at least temporarily, I continued to think about the ways in which artists maintain studio spaces. After several informal conversations with other artists, I wrote a draft of "The Yellow Building" outlining a way in which artists might create long-term, rent-stabilized studio spaces through a form of distributed ownership. In short, I was uninterested in perpetuating models where individuals own a personal financial stake in a property based on speculative value. I hoped to create the conditions of possibility for a for-purpose studio building. The general idea was subsequently discussed over the last year and has become part of the efforts of our small group, Placeholder.

We are looking at a long-term project with many issues to be resolved including how such a building fits into an existing community. We also need to imagine an artists' community that is more diverse than the default MFA-professional class if we want to be part of the communities in which we live and work. When I say we, I am acknowledging that the professionalized MFA-class of artists is predominantly white and not originally from New York City. We move here from other places and insert ourselves into a long tradition of artistic communities, artist migration and gentrification. It's become increasingly clear to me that artist-led projects like Placeholder need to be done in collaboration with everyone fighting for their rights as tenants in an owner-oriented society where profit, not purpose, is the economic engine. motivating the real estate industry. I also want to be able to talk about artists as a diverse community of practitioners, not a professionalized, homogeneous class of people with expensive degrees.

The Yellow Building is not a solution for all of these problems, but it represents for me, an alternative ownership model that reorients property around common purpose and long-term use which can help create stable communities. I'd like to thank Caroline and everyone in the property group for helping reorient part of my practice from a place of individual critique to collective action. I'd like to think that Placholder is one starting point for more of us to start working and learning together.

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