Live/Work Artist Lofts. Two weeks ago the Peekskill BID held a well-attended meeting to invite and discuss ideas about the future of housing in downtown Peekskill. (I wrote about this in a previous post.) I was so impressed at seeing so many people at the table - many of whose roles and self-interests could potentially be seen as conflicting or even adversarial - working quite well together, always seeming to keep in mind the greater common goal - a vibrant, healthy, prosperous downtown Peekskill. Business owners, landlords, tenants, city officials and artists all sat down together, and I kept thinking, "How often do you see that?" My friend/neighbor, Alexis Cole, and her landlord, Ken Laudon, sat next to each other, and each spoke eloquently from their own, quite different, points of view.
Jason Angell and the BID board had obviously spent a lot of time putting together a presentation that included drafts of a number of different possible proposals and scenarious, most of which put forward some sort of zoning change (ranging from mild to significant) that would affect Peekskill's live/work lofts.
I spoke, too, but not so eloquently. My thoughts were kind of jumbled, trying to process so much information, and I hadn't had time to organize and find a way to express my own point of view. But the seed was planted, and I've thinking about it a lot, and now I'm ready to express my own perceptions and ideas, which are somewhat different from anything I heard at the meeting.
At the meeting I realized that many people don't view Peekskill's live/work artists lofts as I do - as true jewels in the crown of our little city. I also understand that as a non-landlord, I can't grasp the financial implications and frustrations of owning property which carries myriad restrictions on its use. As someone who occupies one of these special spaces, though, I'm at least qualified to share my much-pondered reasons on why they should be preserved.
In the various options presented at the BID meeting, I felt that none fully grasped the potential of preserving the live/work artist loft zoning and marketing them much more as something that makes Peekskill special and different. Right now we're in an economic slump, so some landlords have waited months for viable artist tenants. But as of the last BID meeting, ALL of Peekskill's rental live/work artists lofts (about 56 or so) were rented. Ken Laudon (who owns more live/work lofts than any other landlord) pointed out that these spaces are rented at market rates, and that his artist/tenants are responsible, rent-paying people. (Yes, we have - as a group - a bohemian, irresponsible reputation, but that doesn't fly in the world of credit checks and previous landlord references.)
Someone at the meeting asked what's so special about the LIVE/WORK aspect of these lofts? Why not just live in a residential space and rent studio space? Of course, lots of artists do that. But there's something about living and working in the same space that's liberating and expansive. I know I speak for other Peekskill artists in saying that occupying this space has sparked my creativity far beyond my (high) expectations.
I'm here not because I had any previous desire to live in Peekskill (just the opposite) but because I was seeking a live/work space. As a magician, I never had a real rehearsal space. Living in northern NJ, I certainly couldn't afford to maintain a separate space. When I had a big show coming up, I would rent space in a local church, shlepping my props over, spending as much time hauling, setting up and tearing down as I did actually rehearsing. I desperately needed a dedicated rehearsal space.
I checked out other NYC metro-area communities that have live/work zoned artists lofts. There weren't many, and the only two that were appealing were Beacon and Peekskill. Peekskill was the clear winner for many reasons, including its proximity to NYC and, especially, that it's a real community. Unlike with other artist loft areas, I'm not relegated to a converted industrial area - I'm right in the thick of things, which is absolutely wonderful.
It's impossible to overstate what having this space has meant to me and to my magic. I have grown by leaps and bounds. Since moving here, I've published my first book, which has gotten me speaking engagements in L.A. and London. I've also developed a full hour's worth of stage magic, which I debuted earlier this year at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck. (The rule of thumb is that every 5 minutes of stage magic takes about a year to develop.) Every day is filled with inspiration from other artists. I love living here far more than anywhere else I've ever lived.
The result is that Peekskill is FULL of art - everywhere you turn. Although we have many beautiful buildings, Peekskill's charm is not immediately apparent on first glance. What sets us apart is our ART. (Hey - an accidental marketing slogan!)
So my vision would be to preserve the current live/work artist lofts and really market them to the NYC artist community. (Many of my NYC artist friends are flabbergasted when they find out that such a community exists.) I would support opening up all NEW downtown construction to unrestricted residental zoning, encouraging a more professionally diverse downtown population.
I do believe, however, that those of us who occupy these special spaces have a real obligation to consciously, actively use our spaces to benefit our community which does so much to support us. We need to open up our spaces more often. We need to give back to the community. And we need to communicate what makes these special, vital and worth preserving.
(Have I mentioned that I love it here?)