By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach sculptor Jorg Dubin cherishes every single inch of his 1,650 square foot Laguna Canyon art studio.
“I am at the mercy of my landlord,” Dubin said. “If they ever sold this property, I would not be able to afford another space like I have. And I’m even running out of room.”
Dubin has been a working artist in Laguna Beach for 40 years, and is one of many art community voices calling out for more affordable work/live options for Laguna artists.
“Laguna is known as an art colony, but in 10 years there is not going to be a lot of any artists living here because there is no affordable space for them,” Dubin said.
The city of Laguna Beach seems to be listening, and at its Tuesday meeting the City Council approved to pay an artist work/live project developer up to $67,500 to assess the city’s needs for such space.
Artspace, of Minneapolis, which develops affordable live/work space for artist communities, will determine the needs of artists, arts organizations and creative businesses for affordable art work/live space.
“Artists are an essential element of the fabric of Laguna Beach,” said Sian Poeschl, the city’s cultural arts manager. “The concern the artists have is their ability to live here, work here, or have a production space here. There is a lot of anecdotal information that there is nothing affordable, the lack of space, and the ability for them to call Laguna Beach home is becoming more and more difficult.”
Tourism remains the town’s economic engine, but audiences and non-profit arts presenters generated $49.1 million in annual tickets and payroll, according to a 2012 report by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C., based arts advocate.
Artspace, a nonprofit developer of affordable space for artists and arts organizations, has successfully developed and managed projects throughout the country through the adaptive reuse of historic buildings and new construction. They work with communities to do feasibility and market research and provide advice on ways to accommodate arts and space-based projects, and also owns and manages all of the buildings it develops. Artspace has facilitated 42 projects in 20 states, including in Santa Cruz where the Tannery Lofts provide 100 units of affordable housing for artists.
“The city has an active arts community and housing here is extremely expensive,” said Carol Berg, housing and community development manager for the city of Santa Cruz. “It is very difficult for artists to live in this community. Santa Cruz wants to maintain its vibrant arts community.”
According to its website, the Tannery Lofts were developed in 2007 with a redevelopment agency tax credit, making it affordable for artists to live and work there. The state dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2011. Since then the city’s Economic Development Department continues to work with Artspace to develop the property and provide new opportunities for the arts to flourish.
“It’s been very successful, and there is a long waiting list of artists that want to live there,” Berg said. “And it really is a benefit to the community as well. It’s done under economic development and most people don’t necessarily see art and economic development fitting in the same category, but it certainly does. It’s a real boon to the town,” Berg said.
Santa Cruz’s Tannery arts space was transformed from an old industrial building, once home to a leather tannery compound built in the mid-1800s. Dubin says the lack of similar vacant spaces in Laguna is a problem when trying to develop artist work/live here.
“There aren’t any old industrial areas to turn into live/work spaces. There isn’t a bunch of old building sitting around to be redeveloped. If you weld or sculpt, those things aren’t even allowed within residential areas of Laguna Beach. The only place you can develop that is out in Laguna Canyon,” said Dubin, who does both.
Sculptor Louis Longi has been trying to develop a 30-unit artist work/live space in Laguna Canyon for nine years, winning city approval to do so in 2014. But since then his project encountered numerous legal roadblocks from groups alleging habitat infringement and lack of compliance with planning rules and hazard policy.
“I’m spending a quarter of a million dollars restoring the creek on my property, and I don’t know why because it’s basically a drainage ditch,” Longi said. “We get these people that are opposed to projects, and so concerned they are not looking at the big picture.”
Longi believes public money would be better spent on construction of an artist work/live compound, rather than paying for another study.
“They are going to do another study and they are going to come up with what we already know: it’s expensive to live and work in Laguna, we are losing our artists, and we need to come up with an artists work space to keep the arts culture active,” Longi said.
Poeschl says the real value of the study will be finding out what artists’ actual needs and wants are.
“What constitutes as an artist? How many do we have currently here? What are their biggest challenges? What would be our aspiration to encourage a growth of a variety of art forms? Are we predominantly visual versus performing versus digital? We don’t have any of that information and it is important information to understand what our future could potentially look like,” Poeschl said.
Longi hopes the study produces a real solution, and quickly.
“Laguna is losing its identity,” he said. “By not developing artist work/live you will lose everything Laguna once was and why we are here.”