By George Maciunas
The Artist’s Problem
While is has been recognized for some time that New York City is one of the leading art centers of the world, with probably the largest artist population, it is considerably less well known that the city suffers from a severe shortage of economical working space for artists. In part this shortage is due to the moderate means of average professional artist and the artist’s special space requirements. Normally the artist requires large unbroken spaces with high ceilings and adequate illumination, and these needs can only be met by commercial lofts. At the same time these lofts, which are relatively expensive, are rarely zoned for living or require considerable alteration to make them suitable for dwelling, so that the artist is often forced to pay a double rent — one for living and one for working — which he can ill afford. Moreover the fluidity of the artist’s working regime, demanding periods of concentrated activity, make the separation of living and working spaces very undesirable. Both the city and the state at the urging of the Artists Tenants Association and various other sympathetic groups have attempted to alleviate the problem by making certain concessions in zoning requirements. These attempts, though well motivated, have been insufficient. The artist is put to considerable expense in improving the property, even to comply with relaxed zoning requirements. What is more, his investment is unprotected, since there is nothing to prevent his landlord from even doubling the rent on the now more valuable property once the artist’s lease has expired. The result is that the improved loft is removed from the class of economical working spaces.
The Artist’s Problem is Part of a Larger General Problem
But the scarcity of economical working space for artist is part of the general problem arising from urban obsolescence and decay. Large areas of central city, zoned for commercial and light manufacturing use were constructed some time ago. The narrow streets and old buildings are usually not suited to the demands of modern commercial usage. Because of this and the fashion that dictates the location the more flourishing businesses, the more profitable enterprises tend to compete for space in a few favored areas. The older sections are left to house the more marginal businesses; the buildings are rarely in more than partial use, and are hardly profitable to their owners. In many cases they have been allowed to fall into disrepair. These areas, frequently abutting on low income or slum residential areas, become foci of urban blight. Up to now significant attempts at urban renewal of these areas involving costly clearing of the areas and new construction, have not been made. And the process of obsolescence and decay here continue without obstruction. Nevertheless there are many buildings in such areas that are architecturally sound and potentially valuable if considered from the point of view of radically altered use.
A Step in the Direction of a Solution
With the artist’s problem in mind FLUXHOUSE was formed as a non-profit cooperative corporation consisting solely of professional artist seeking adequate combined work and living space. Its aim is to purchase, renovate and maintain suitable buildings for artist occupancy. A comprehensive survey led FLUXHOUSE to select the area of Manhattan between Houston and Canal Streets, known as “Hell’s Hundred Acres”, as the most suitable because of economy and location, and because it contained a number of very sound, though underused, buildings. This area is the site of precisely the type of obsolescence described. Moreover, it abuts on lower income residential areas immediately to the East and West. FLUXHOUSE’s immediate plan is to purchase three buildings, already selected, within this area as the site of an artistic community. These buildings are to be renovated as work-residences which will not only comply with zoning requirements but also conform to the specific living and working requirements of the individual artists. Renovation, which has already been thoroughly planned will, include in each building a self-service elevator, a central air heating and cooling system, new flooring, kitchens, bathrooms, plumbing, lighting fixtures, walls, partitions, doors, closets etc. Moreover two of the buildings will house theaters fro the performing arts, which will be used for film exhibitions, dance recitals, concerts etc. They will also house wood and metal working shops, photo darkrooms, a film processing and editing laboratory, a sound studio and offset printing press. All of these facilities will be available to all of the artist members of the cooperative. But FLUXHOUSE intends to go beyond this and become an integral part of the adjoining community by making available to the children of the area workshops in the various arts under the supervision of the artist members of FLUXHOUSE. In view of the wide range of special competences of the artist residents of FLUXHOUSE, these local workshops can include, depending upon the needs and desires of the neighborhood, work in painting, sculpting, film making, dance, printing etc. It is our belief that the introduction of an artistic nucleus as FLUXHOUSE into such an area can pave the way for other similar projects and perhaps initiate the conversion of a marginal and deteriorating commercial district into a cultural center with value extending far beyond the immediate bounds of the community.
Fluxhouse, Plan for an Artist Condominium in New York City
sheet: 14 x 8 1/2″ (35.5 x 21.6 cm)
The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift
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