Discussions on Artist Displacement Are Coming Together
Wesley Adams • February 5, 2016 • Progression •
The Boulder County Arts Leadership Forum (BCALF) hosted a panel discussion yesterday regarding Artist Displacement (or Artist Drift) in Boulder, CO and its surrounding areas.
Held at the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center, the discussion was moderated by Jessica Kooiman, Executive Director/Curator of Firehouse Art Center, and Wes Jessup, Museum Director of Longmont Museum. Panelists Tamil Maldonado of The Boulder Arts Commission, Lisa Gegaudas of Denver Arts & Venues, and Cindy Domenico, a county commissioner of Boulder, fielded questions and concerns from a group of over 40 citizens, all eager to be heard.
The evening fittingly started with a presentation from CU Engineering students, Sarah Lafasto and Nico Pinkowski, who conducted research on artist displacement for the Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA) in November of 2015. They defined Artist Drift, or Artist Displacement, as, “the movement of artists out of a geographic location.” Lafasto and Pinkowski also talked a little bit about some artist displacement-oriented research information they had presented in 2015.
Combing through comparisons and controls, the two-person presentation team reviewed their findings on what Boulder does and doesn’t do as a county to support its artists. They obtained this information using public Colorado tax and budget data from 2009-2013. The gist being that wages for Boulder artists are lower than its surrounding areas while the cost of living continues to increase in comparison.
The originally-intended format of a mostly panel-oriented dialogue quickly shifted to an open floor, where raised hands followed a variety of declarations on why Artist Displacement is happening. A change in tone was well received, though, by the panel and its moderators as it was apparent that some of those opinions needed voicing.
It is a near-confounding task to allocate all the reasons why Artist Displacement might be taking place, understand them individually as well as a whole, and then address them accordingly. But that is what is called for. At the starting phases, it’s still a start.
There were pertinent points of view being raised, like local independent artist, Mikaela Nichols’s question, simply asking, “Are there residencies for artists in Boulder?”, which had been preceded by a high frequency of statements about the cost of living being too high. The alluding answer seemed to be a collective “no”, given the vacuum for response that was momentarily created. But it still struck a common chord laced throughout the night’s discussion.
One still-out-of-reach but potential solution could lie in something Domenico mentioned. Discussions of affordable-housing options being implemented in the future have been brought up among city leaders. This plan, though, is still strictly on an internal discussion level. And furthermore, affordable housing options are regulated by where the Federal Poverty Line is set, around $11,000/year, making it hard to find a middle-class ground to stand on.
When Kooiman presented the question, “What makes a rich arts environment?” to the panel, they interchangeably agreed with the need for more emphasis on diversity and collaboration, which mirrored a seemingly majority view of the room. Where will this collaboration and diversity come from, though? Perhaps another of the many-a-nook that needs deeper delving, as this discussion moves forward.
Drawing on an anecdote from her experiences in helping diversify Denver’s arts, Gegaudas went into detail about how, “it’s really about the neighborhoods.” She says we need to be, “working at the city-level.” A hint at the sort of grassroots thinking that might be needed to help nourish our communities’ deficiencies.
As time drew to a close the much-needed conversation took a few separate shapes. How will it be shown to the City of Boulder that its citizens want more effort put into their community’s arts? Who will lead that charge? Is collaborative effort between the city and its people, to solve this complex issue, possible? What can be done about the continuing-to-rise cost of living? These questions are beginning to take hold, and more will surely follow.
A voice from the very back of the room, that of Marda Kirn from EcoArts Connections, chimed in with a spot-on notion about being able to take in all the involved interests. “Self-organize,” she said. Suggesting that if we, on the individual level, pull together our interests and know what role they play, more traction will be gained.
With minutes to spare, Charlotte LaSasso, Executive Director of the BCAA announced that there will be more meetings to come, as they could see the need for it via this precedent dialogue. At the starting phases, it’s still a start.BCAA