As some of you may recall, I recently wrote about how high rents are increasingly becoming a burden for many lower and middle income Miami residents. Over the coming months, I will delve into this topic further in my column, looking into the topic from a myriad of different perspectives. This week, I am going to be focusing on an often overlooked group of residents: its artists.
Up until recently, Miami has been a fairly good place to be an artist. We may have not had world-renowned arts institutions, a substantial collector base or access to premier art schools compared to other major art capitals but we did have one major benefit: a low cost of living for artists.
Being an artist is an expensive undertaking, in large part because an artist often needs to rent out studio space in addition to paying rent on an apartment. Likewise, arts organizations such as nonprofit art spaces or for-profit galleries need large spaces to exhibit and possibly store art, which are difficult to come by and often expensive.
For decades, Miami had an excess of space that artists and arts organizations are able to get dirt cheap, allowing them to be able to afford a space to pursue their practice. In addition, they were also able to afford more space than they ever could get in other urban areas, thus allowing them more freedom to create more art, as well as larger art than they could elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the rapidly rising cost of living in Miami has had a substantial impact on artists.
Increasingly, artists have been pushed out of their studio spaces due to rising rents in neighborhoods like Wynwood. Many of the spaces that artists once occupied have been bought up and turned into more lucrative ventures, such as higher-end mixed-use developments.
Having spoken to a number of artists in the community about their rent situation, many struggle to find spaces that they need. Several expressed that they have been forced to downsize into significantly smaller spaces, which in turns shrinks their ambitions and their output.
In addition, the rise of housing costs have also created a double whammy of price increases for artists. Already struggling to get by on meager incomes, these artists often find themselves moving further away from where they live and work. Few live-work spaces currently exist in the city and many are often priced too high and come with too many compromises for many artists to seriously consider.
Artists have been able to mitigate this in some ways, particularly by occupying spaces that have been temporarily donated or heavily discounted by developers for use as studios or to house arts non-profits. For example, the Design District’s development firm DACRA has had a long history of lending or heavily discounting spaces to local artists and nonprofits.
While it is great that some artists and arts organizations are able to receive free or reduced rents through the generosity of developers, there are some downsides. Many of these deals are short-term, usually only lasting a few years at most. This forces artists and arts organizations to seek out new locations every few years.
One of the most prominent examples of a developer providing free or reduced rents was the Downtown Art House project, a former fish market that housed several prominent arts organizations including Bas Fisher Invitational, Dimensions Variable and Turn Based Press. In its three-year run, it proved to be an invaluable cultural gem in a desolate part of downtown.
However, Miami World Center, which owned the space, recently notified the tenants of Downtown Art House that they had to vacate in six months as they will begin demolition to begin construction. While the tenants were fully aware of the situation when they came into the space and they have praised the developers for allowing them to use the space, the artists and art spaces involved are for the most part left to find a space on their own. In addition, the developers have not spoken to the tenants about any future plans for permanent art spaces.
The arts community in Miami has undoubtedly grown exponentially in the past decades and has helped transform this city. But that growth is being threatened by the lack of permanent places for the arts to thrive. This city’s artists and arts organizations love Miami and want to continue the work they do, but the lack of long-term and permanent spaces has created instability and uncertainty for many.
There is no question that Miami wants the arts and artists to stay in their communities. But there hasn’t been a serious effort to address this extraordinarily pressing issue. We cannot continue to ask artists and arts organizations to bring the arts into our home community without giving them a long-term home of their own.