CULTURE FRONT: Artists need housing too

By on August 13, 2014
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Affordable housing in Houston thanks to the art organization, Project Row Houses. These homes will offer sanctuary to families and artists, ensuring they remain in the area. Photo: Project Row Houses.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – In most American communities, having a significant portion of a workforce living out of cars or tents would be seen as evidence of poverty. But in Jackson, seasonal workers, undocumented workers, service industry workers, essential service providers – and artists – are too often seen as disposable community members.

I don’t know if quantitative numbers are available about where and how Jackson area artists are living. I’m sure their wealth, or lack thereof, synchs up with Teton County’s demographics generally. Anecdotally, I can attest to meeting numerous artists over the past five years who have spent time living in cars or windowless temporary spaces, showering at the gym, scrimping to afford food.

The dearth of affordable housing for artists in Jackson mirrors a nationwide trend. Last month, a subsidized artist housing development in Harlem reported receiving 53,000 applications for the building’s available 89 units.

As Teton County wrestles with its affordable housing problem, it is important to include artists in the mix of people to be served.

When I spoke with Teton Artlab director Travis Walker, he noted that, “Artists are an integral part of our culture.”

“That they are an important part of the economy is obvious; just look at all the galleries,” Walker said. “But more than just producing sellable, collectable commodities, history tells us that they will help define our culture. Much of the romantic vision of Jackson Hole comes to us through the eyes of classical artists like Thomas Moran, or contemporary visionaries like Quentin Tarantino.”

Jackson Hole Public Art director Carrie Geraci says artists are vital to quality of life in Jackson. “They reinterpret the world around us through their art and allow us to see, learn, and feel about our surroundings in new ways,” she said. “They add meaning and beauty to our daily lives, and allow us to deepen our understanding of each other and the world around us.”

Beyond their cultural contributions, artists could well prove indispensable in finding practical solutions to the housing shortage. When it comes to imagining ways to use materials and physical environments in new and creative ways, artists are experts. And across the nation, artists are turning to social engagement as a form of art.

For instance, in Houston, an arts organization called Project Row Houses has renovated nearly 40 abandoned houses on a four-block site in a historic African-American neighborhood, creating affordable housing for families and opportunities for artists.

If you want to experience an artist-led project that re-imagines public space, join Jackson Hole Public Art on Friday, August 29, on Deloney Street between Cache and Center Streets. For one block, the street will be transformed into a pedestrian plaza. “Expect the unexpected, with pop-up performances, innovative seating, and an opportunity to relax,” said Bland Hoke, public artist in residence.

“Artists are typically very generous in sharing their technical skills with their community, through teaching and volunteering with youth,” said Geraci, and the Deloney Street pop-up project will be no exception.

Also in generous supply is the everyday imagination Jackson’s artists contribute to our community. From giant puppets to steamroller prints to New York City Ballet to Shakespeare on the lawn and beyond, artists make Jackson a wonderful place to live.

“As a community I think we need to invest in a permanent solution to developing affordable artist live/work spaces,” Geraci said.

I couldn’t agree more.


About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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