Newsletter | May/Jun 1989

ArtMarin: A Pproposesd Ccontemporary Art Center, San Geronirno, CA.

by Georgia Annwell
In the early sixties (fifties in N.Y.C.), working and living in so-called lofts became fashionable for painters, sculptors, dancers, and many other artists and craftspersons who needed large workspaces. Economic factors contributed to this. The migration of industry out of cities left large vacancies in warehouses and industrial buildings in N.Y.C., S.F., and elsewhere. Landpersons looked the other way when artists moved into spaces zoned only for commerce/industry. They needed tenants. This has changed. Vast urban renewal and renovation across the country, particularly south of Market St. in San Francisco, have produced a scarcity of nice cheap loft space. Several of the artist communes in San Francisco were evicted in-the lafe-se~verid&-s- an-d- early eighties to pave the way for new office buildings and new parking structures. Commercial space is no longer inexpensive. Its cost prohibits maintenance of a separate apartment by the artist. Certain few large loft projects were purchased by their artists and have survived. They are plagued with building inspections, notices of code violations and threats of condemnation. They have long waiting lists and very selective procedures for admission of new members.
In Marin County the situation is worse. There is a residential vacancy rate from 0.1 to 3%, according to community, and a commercial vacancy rate near to 5%. Both residential and commercial rentals are affordable only by moderate and high income level persons. It is difficult to find a decent apartment less than $1000 per month. And it is impossible to rent commercial space for living because of strict enforcement of zoning regulations against such practice. Also the warehouses today are steel, non-insulated, and without windows.
I called the Golden Gate National Recreational Headquarters, Marin Headlands at Fort Cronkite. A few artists live and work there near the beach. There are no vacancies. It is government property so the artists live under certain regulations. For example, they can hold no exhibitions and they can construct no outdoor sculpture.
I have been subscribing to the Sunday Marin Independent Journal for three years in order to determine the availability of artist living/working space. There is almost none. Two years ago one ad read: "Mill Valley loft studios for work/live situation in redwoods. $6007 1 visited right away. Four were available. 2_11 woman had just built a home for herself with four additional bedrooms. Each had a half bath and an exterior door to a shade deck. No kitchens existed. There was no ventilation unless one opened a door. They were perched on the side of a north facing cliff some seventy-five feet up. They were so small that if I rented one I would have to decide whether to move in my clothes or my drafting table. There have been no other such ads for live/work situations.
To test the market for artists needing workliving space I placed an ad for one Sunday only in the Marin paper. It read:
PROF. ARTISTS. Accepting comments, inquiries and applications for living working studios in contemporay art center proposed for 25 acre rural site, San Geronimo, Marin Co. Some preference to sculptors. 50 cents/sqft Write: ARTMARIA~, Box 4605, San Luis Obisbo, Ca.
Some time afterward the post office requested me to rent a larger box to accommodate the excessive mail I received. It poured in from Marin, all of California, and even from as far away as New York City. Data from these sources is used in programming and designing.
The central problem of this project is the development of a contemporary art center which will do the following: (1) meet artists needs for affordable studios; (2) feature a contemporary sculpture park; (3) enhance and promote both the appreciation and business of contemporary art; (4) interact with and preserve a beautiful environment in Marin County; and (5) be economically feasible.

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