Monday, April 09, 2007

The arts and Real Estate connection

It is a well known phenomenom of the real estate business, that the fine arts are kind of an antihistiamine or antibiotic for neighborhoods that are infected with crime and empty, vacant buildings.

Because crime ridden or boarded-up neighborhoods usually get very low rents, they become a magnet for artists looking for cheap studios and small, unique restaurants looking for affordable spaces.

So picture Old Town Alexandria a few decades ago, with an abandoned old shell of a building where torpedoes were manufactured during WWII, and many empty boarded up buildings up and down King Street. Or perhaps imagine, just a few years ago, the 14th Street area in Washington, DC, pretty much in the same malignant state.

And thus after quite a few truckloads of trash were removed from the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria, and a few brave artists and then art galleries opened up around the 14th Street, these areas began to attract people - both to the arts and to the restaurants.

And this in turn, began the vicious cycle of real estate, because now the national chains begin to become interested in the once dying neighborhoods, and rents begin to rise, and soon the artists and the galleries, and the small unique restaurants, have to start looking for a new place to go to, unable to pay the same rent scales as the chain restaurants and the national stores.

And so they begin migrating to yet another desperate neighborhood, like a revitalizing force of art and food.

This is apparently what is happening now in the area along West Broad Street in downtown Richmond, VA.

A First Fridays gallery walk was institutionalized there in 2001, soon after galleries and artists began to occupy the once vacant (and cheap) buildings in the area.

As Joe Macenka and Olympia Meola report in the Richmond Times Dispatch:

The event started in 2001 with about 17,000 visitors on a schedule that began in the fall and ended in the spring. Last year, attendance swelled to about 50,000. This year, First Fridays has expanded to a 12-month schedule.

It has become a linchpin for a renaissance along the West Broad corridor. What began with a few artists taking over vacant buildings along the stretch has blossomed into a movement with new restaurants, galleries, shops and apartments.
This is great news!

But now a word of warning: As I mentioned earlier, there will be soon a point where the same folks who braved the early days and set up galleries, shops and restaurants in this area, and made it blossom with its own unique character, will face escalating rents, and come to the attention of the trade giants of the food and retail industry. And when the rents go up, the artists and small restaurants will leave.

And unless the Richmond city fathers understand the vicious real estate cycle and make special accommodations for the original brave new gallerists and artists and chefs, etc., with them will leave the people, who after all, came to the area attracted by its own uniqueness, rather than a cookie-cutter downtown area full of Mickydees, Banana Republics and even chain pubs and chain galleries. And when the people stop coming, the chains' profits decrease and before you know it, they're gone, and buildings get boarded up, crime rises, and the whole cycle starts again, as a new generation of artists and chefs begin to move in.

Note: That's our own Rosetta DeBeradinis in the photograph illustrating the article!

Art-O-Matic Countdown
AOM opens this coming weekend in Crystal City at 2121 Crystal City Drive, and the exciment to one of the nation's most energizing artist-driven events is already building up as artists design, paint and create their spaces, and artneocon critics sharpen their journalistic fangs in their galvanized minds, and gallerists open their eyes to try to find the emerging star in this year's version of AOM.

Held regularly since 1999, Artomatic is the region’s one-of-a-kind multimedia art extravaganza, featuring more than 600 regional artists and performers. The free five-week event, to be held April 13–May 20, will feature nearly 90,000 square feet of paintings, sculptures, photography and cutting edge videos, computer and even self-creating artworks. And as AOM veterans know, a ton of parties and fun.

As DC ubercollector Philip Barlow eloquently pointed out in this letter to the WCP, many of today's top DC artists have Art-O-Matic in their resume: Manon Cleary, Dan Steinhilber, the Dumbacher brothers, Renee Stout, Tim Tate, Michael Clark, Richard Dana, Graham Caldwell, Judy Jashinsky, Richard Chartier, and many, many others, including online superstar and multi best-selling author: Frank Warren of Postsecret.

During the last AOM, I asked a variety of curators, gallerists, collectors and other artsy folks to email me their top 10 lists of their favorite ten AOM artists. The lists were then published here, and eventually they generated a variety of separate art shows in several DC, VA and MD commercial galleries and even catapulted some artists into solo shows.

So this year we're going to do it again, and if you sent me a Top 10 List during the last AOM, consider yourself invited and please email me your Top 10 once you visit AOM this year.

Artomatic will open to the public at 3pm, Friday, April 13, 2007.

Wanna be a DC art critic?

DCist is looking for a visual arts writer. Details here.