Developer uses art to entice downtown LA tenants

The owners of a new apartment complex in downtown LA are tapping artists for help marketing their building, OLiVE DTLA. They’ve launched a competition for an artist in residence, who would live at the complex for six months and engage the residents in the art-making process. This Thursday, June 22, they’ll announce the winner of the competition.

This is the latest example of a growing trend for real estate developers to bring street cred to new development by bringing in artists. So who is gaining here, and are there losers? Or do we simply have a more colorful city?

DnA producer Avishay Artsy spoke to Wolff Company director of marketing Amber Huntley-Ruiz; Street Art House co-founder Justin Fredericks; Crewest Studio co-founder Scott Power; and artists Lindsey Nobel and Joseph Lee.

OLiVE DTLA is a 293-unit mixed-use project located downtown at 12th between Olive and Pico, a few blocks east of Staples Center. It costs between $2,000 and $4,000 for an apartment there. Amenities include a pool, rooftop common areas with firepits and barbecues, a 24-hour fitness center, and private underground parking. The artist in residence would get a two-story, rent-free loft and $2,000 a month for supplies. The Wolff Company, the building’s developer, says it’s at about two-thirds capacity already. There are typically vacancies in the first year of a building’s life, so the artist’s apartment is essentially free for the developer.

The Wolff Company is based in Scottsdale, AZ. Their developments are mostly in the Western U.S., and they have another project across the street from OLiVE DTLA called G12, at 12th and Grand. They also have properties in Anaheim and Oxnard. But this is the first time they’ve tried having an artist in residence.

Joseph Lee in his Fashion District studio. Photo by Avishay Artsy

Joseph Lee in his Fashion District studio. Photo by Avishay Artsy

The developer says art was always going to be part of the building. They already commissioned muralists  to make art inside the building, before people had moved in.

But why have an artist in residence? The Wolff Company’s director of marketing, Amber Huntley-Ruiz, said it was partly to enrich the lives of the residents of the building. But it’s also about differentiating their building from others.

“Downtown L.A. [looks like a] crane city, with 9,000 units I believe coming online, available this year. It’s highly competitive and at some point all of them are beautiful and highly amenitized and they have great quartz countertops and great cabinets and all that jazz. But what is it that makes a building special? And it’s something that we can’t physically build. It’s authenticity and a personality that we have to work to give the building,” Ruiz said.

She added that Wolff Company won’t tell the artists what to paint, but they’d only pick an artist whose work would make sense to be on their walls. But she says they have confidence in whatever the artist picked from the four finalists comes up with.

OLiVE AiR Event from FLUX Branding on Vimeo.

This isn’t the only development to incorporate artists. Magellan Development Group in Chicago had musicians competing for positions at developments in Chicago and Nashville by uploading one minute videos. The semifinalists competed in an “America’s Got Talent”-style competition where the residents voted for their favorite. The Chicago winner, singer-songwriter Jeremy Gentry, performs for eight to 10 a week for the residents in exchange for free rent.

There’s also a development in London where the developer has set aside 100 units for artists.

At OLiVE DTLA, the artists can take their work with them, though what’s painted on the interior and exterior walls remains there, obviously.

The Wolff Company says it received 185 applications in just two weeks. They narrowed down the list based partly on the applicants’ resumes and portfolios, their reasons for wanting the residency, and how they plan to involve the community in their work. There was a panel of art consultants, as well as a branding company and the developer, who helped narrow down the list.

They also partnered with a company called Street Art House, a matchmaker between businesses and artists that produces events, mural commissions, brand collaborations and other efforts. Co-founder Justin Fredericks says the businesses he deals with genuinely love the art, but also see the marketing potential. And artists get exposure out of this deal.

“I’ve seen the opportunities, both cultural and financial opportunities, for these artists that come with new developments. In the past a lot of these huge murals, these beautiful murals that are almost landmarks in this city that go up… the artists were not compensated. Now with these new developments coming up, the developers are valuing the art and they’re paying the artists for their work. So artists are not only getting more recognition through new developments because these buildings are their canvasses for street artists, but now they’re actually being compensated for it,” Fredericks said.

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Chris Alexakisart, housing