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A Vision for an Artist Housing Project in Auburn


A Vision for an Artist Housing Project in Auburn


Artists are the antennae of the race…- Ezra Pound


Walk down the average American city street at night and you’ll be lonely. You may see the occasional dog walker, but more the more likely sight is a dynamic, purple/blue glow coloring most of the living rooms of the houses you pass. Mostly gone are the days in which folks sat on their porches and actually talked to their neighbors. If someone is talking out on the streets of your average American city today, they’re likely talking on their cell phone.


A truly dynamic city is one in which there is activity, inspiring activity, well into the evening. It always starts with arts and culture. The artist is not only the antennae of the race, but she’s a person oddly dedicated to getting that take, that hit of inspiration, down in paint or glass, music or marble, or even in language, as it has never been before. Anyone who has created anything, especially out of an artistic discipline, understands this urge as a divine creative energy that can be expressed only through the lens of that particular artist. Artists are ahead of what we continue to call conventional wisdom because their rhythms are not governed by TV advertisements, or fear generated by them, but by the rhythms of creativity. (And because real wisdom is unconventional.) The field of energy created by artists has powerful effects on the neighborhood and town in which they live and work.


Neighborhoods have rhythms. They have natural boom and bust cycles, so it is natural artists recognize when a neighborhood is about to begin its spiral upwards. The typical income level of the artist in American society demands they be creative regarding basic their needs like housing.


But the presence of artists benefits more than themselves and their neighborhoods. According to Richard Florida, a Professor of Regional Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University, says: The key to understanding America’s technological and economic vibrancy lies in our openness to new people and ideas.[1] Certainly artists are ahead of society regarding openness. Without it no new work comes, and they live for the next creative hit.


Auburn does not exactly have a thriving artist community. A recent Art Space Projects survey of the potential for an artist housing project in Auburn found that the Auburn arts community is not vibrant enough to support such a project. Yet situated in the growing and desirable Puget Sound region, with easy access to Seattle and Mt. Rainier, with an excellent network of parks and other natural amenities, Auburn can be a destination for artists from around the U.S. who feel the pull of what we who live here take for granted, the region’s natural splendor.

Art Space Projects in Minneapolis has been working in the area of artist housing and work space development for many years and is recognized internationally for their work. Their experience in facilitating space development for artists has led them to the following conclusions:

  • Aesthetically pleasing spaces create a safe working environment that helps artists grow professionally and achieve financial stability.
  • Artists' live/work projects help increase pedestrian traffic in urban areas, while streetscapes take on a new, lively character.
  • Other neighborhood development typically follows within three years of the completion of an artists' live/work project. This development in turn helps generate other cultural activity and creates a general increase in visitors to the area.[2]

With this in mind, I propose Auburn undertake a modest first step at making our community more livable and culturally vibrant. I propose an Artist Housing project. Such a project would include:


  • Affordable and Stable Housing/Work space for 15-20 working artists and their families;
  • Artist-friendly businesses, such as a café/bar which would have gallery space, host writing workshops and other arts events and serve as a general meeting space;
  • Sustainable Design, including parking lots which have permeable surfaces.
  • Gardens (rooftop if necessary);
  • Easy access to bike paths and public transportation;
  • An oversight board, made up of founders and residents which would oversee admittance of new residents and governance.
  • A small performance space, fifty –100 seats, that could serve as home for a fringe theater group;
  • A production studio and low-power radio station; &
  • An endowment that would serve as an incubator of new projects and help artists during lean times with funding for workshops, marketing, and related artist assistance.


Ideally, this space would be built for the 15-20 artist residential units alone, but economics may dictate that a larger project be built to include non-artist residents who would be open to living in a creative community. 


Submitted this 22nd of November, 2006 by

Paul Nelson

Auburn, WA

[1] USA Today, April 30, 2003