One of the City's Oldest Artist Communities Fights to Stay in Arts District

Creativity is one of California’s most important economic assets. The 2017 Otis Report on the Creative Economy has found that California leads the nation with the most number of creative jobs, surpassing New York State, Texas, Florida and Illinois respectively. Yet, these same artists are also faced with the problem of finding a secure, affordable place to live and work. This series of posts on KCET Artbound explores the issue of affordable housing for creative workers.

Tucked away in a heavy industrial area in the southeast corner of Los Angeles sits one of the city’s oldest artist lofts. The Santa Fe Art Colony, a converted garment factory neighboring a cement recycler and meat packing plants, is a world away from the high-fashion boutiques and third-wave coffee shops in the heart of the Arts District just a few miles up Alameda Street.

The art colony has stayed largely insulated from the development that has transformed nearby downtown neighborhoods in recent years. But the same forces that have priced many artists out of the area may have finally reached its door.

In October, a 30-year rent-restriction agreement between the city and the property owners is set to expire. Many of the eighty artists living and working in the 57 studio spaces fear a dramatic rent increase will force them out of their home. The Santa Fe Art Colony is the city’s only rent-restricted property dedicated solely to artist housing; its tenants are now fighting to keep the colony affordable and ensure working artists remain a part of the vibrant downtown community they helped create.

Sylvia Tidwell, head of the Santa Fe Art Colony Tenant Association, says the property owners gave residents sixth-month notice in March that rents will increase as much 80 percent and in some cases will double. She has spearheaded an effort to find a solution on behalf of the artists, reaching out to city officials, lawyers and arts non-profits for help.

“Artists simply can’t pay these prices, and we would be forced out due to the market pressure of people interested in living in the Arts District,” says Tidwell. “We want to keep the area an authentic arts district with creative artists active and working in it.”

Many of the tenants have lived in the building for decades and say the space, located on the southern edge of the Arts District, has been essential in facilitating their work and careers.

“We’ve made it so it’s like a little oasis down here,” says mixed-media visual artist Sharon Ryan, a tenant for 20 years.

Ryan was drawn to the open layout and expansive walls of the loft, where she could set up her canvases and work tables. The extra space and freedom have made living in a heavy industrial area worth the inconvenience, even when the rancid smell from a nearby meat packing plant wafts into her loft.

“I’m more than happy to live on the edge like this because you can work until 3 or 4 in the morning,” says Ryan. “No one comes asking what you’re doing or telling you you’re too loud.”

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Chris Alexakisart, housing