Live/Work: the intersection of art and affordable housing

Editor's note: The following documentary short was produced by the fellows of the Northwest Institute for Social Change. It's the first of three we'll post here at BlueOregon. Learn more about NWISC through this short interview with founder Phil Busse or visit

Artists help cultivate the "liveability" of a city, but what happens when the creative class is forced to move because they have been priced out of the community? Made by 2008 Northwest Institute for Social Change fellows, "Live/Work" looks at the vulnerable relationship between artists and affordable housing, specifically through the lens of Mile Post 5, which may prove to be Portland's unique solution to maintaining its creative community.

  • John Statler (unverified)

    Support for the arts is critical for social development. The future hope of our country, region, state and local areas depends upon our creativity. Creativity requires risk taking and few people will take risks that are not support by the community.

    Art leads to much more than an enjoyable painting on the wall or controversial photographs. Art leads to new ways of looking at all aspects of life, which leads to new economic opportunities.

    Go Art!! May Portland's experiment be a success. May Medford find a path to supporting art!

  • Anonymous Misanthrope (unverified)

    This gives a whole new meaning to "art projects". If I were an artist, I would interpret this as an attempt by the city to co-opt my work and I'd certainly never take them up on what I would perceive as their offer of exchanging cheap rent for my reliable production of art for their consumption.

    The Pearl District and the eastside waterfront worked for artists precisely because the space wasn't groomed for them -- they made it themselves -- and because of the density and because they were mostly living there illegally. That gave them integrity and the freedom to work outside of imposed constraints because their lifestyle involved breaking constraints. This, well, doesn't.

  • Anonymous Misanthrope (unverified)

    Creativity requires risk taking

    Exactly. And the purpose of Mile Post 5 is to mitigate risks. Am I wrong?

  • MCT (unverified)

    This is great for the artists. though artists pretty much traditionally have 'suffered' for their in the worst yet often artistically inspiring neighborhoods in cities around the world. Through my partner I have many musician friends who make it a matter of honor to support and help each other out. But nothing like this.....only in New Orleans is there a musicians village, and only then because the city felt they would gain by not letting the New Oreans musical traditions fade away.

    As much as we need art and artists, we also need affordable housing for people who work on the lower end of the pay scale and cannot make their paychecks meet all their needs. And not just families with children either. Nothing good comes to a community that prices its service and low income workers out of housing near they work, and too far away for the commute to be cost effective.

    I just want to kick John Edwards' butt for standing up (and pretty much standing alone in the world of politics) as a persuasive advocate for workers and the poor, and then self-destructing his credibility.

  • john (unverified)

    I'm with MCT on this one. The video tells us:

    1) Portland arts funding lags woefully behind other cities and this is one of the reasons that artists are priced out of the Pearl and other downtown locations BUT we still have a thriving arts scene and artists continue to flock to our city

    2) Artists don't want to live out on 82nd with their "near poverty" wages because 82nd is known as "porno, pawn shops, and Asian grocery stores" BUT there is nothing stopping artists from gentrifying this area and turning it into an arts hotspot.

    3) A private entity is creating affordable space for artits. Great. But the video says the city should be doing this. Why?

    We have a lot of issues with affordable housing in this city, but figuring out how to keep artists in the Pearl doesn't rise up much on my list of priorities.

    This is an old, old story in the history of urban gentrification.

  • MC (unverified)

    I agree, the city should be making sure it's citizens don't die on the street. House the homeless already, I'm willing to pay the taxes.

  • RW (unverified)

    I argue with the loose use of the term "gentrification", particularly as applied to the effect of having artists in residence in your area. We typically have little money to do structural work typical to "gentrification" (a euphemism for chic developments), and we definitely do not hugely draw in the hip mercantile infrastructure characteristic of an officially gentrified ghetto. Alberta was NOT cool and cute until aggressive funding streams were availed to all who would buy in the area and solve issues of crime and degradation by dint of home ownership and, yes, the inevitable gentrification. Alberta got REALLY cute when money moved in, not artists. It was scrappy, harsh and had its surprise sweet spots before that.

    The problem with expecting us artists to "gentrify" an area is that as we enrich it with creative intensity and make it home, appreciative non-artists move in, attracted by what we have established, and in a matter of time, we, typically renters, are pushed out again along with the original locals.

    It's tiresome to beautify over and over again, and be shoved out once the area is discovered. The idea of a collective is attractive - in SF I've lived in artist's collectives. You have your slackers and you have your workers. I think I agree with some kind of support for working artists, but a part of me really wonders more about the many working poor and striving slobs out there who don't get to be "special" enough for dispensations from onerous housing costs.

guest column

connect with blueoregon