Helping counter the gentrification in my neighborhood

Casco Viejo boundary at 15th Street

My art studio is located near the boundaries of a protected historical center of Panama City. The architecture is protected by law since 1997, but the people are not. The neighborhood has been going through a gentrification process for the last two decades and we, as artists, are in part responsible for that.

Art studios entrance. We are five artists sharing space here.

I rent here basically because it is cheap and near some galleries. This is also where other artists and collectors are either living, working or hanging out in cafés, bars and restaurants.

My choice is clearly part of the gentrification process. As taken from Wikipedia:

Phillip Clay’s two-stage model of gentrification places artists as prototypical stage one or “marginal” gentrifiers. The National Endowment for the Arts did a study that linked the proportion of employed artists to the rate of inner city gentrification across a number of U.S. cities. Artists will typically accept the risks of rehabilitating deteriorated property, as well as having the time, skill, and ability to carry out these extensive renovations. David Ley states that the artist’s critique of everyday life and search for meaning and renewal are what make them early recruits for gentrification.

The identity that residence in the inner city provides is important for the gentrifier, and this is particularly so in the artists’ case. Their cultural emancipation from the bourgeois makes the central city an appealing alternative that distances them from the conformity and mundaneness attributed to suburban life. They are quintessential city people, and the city is often a functional choice as well, for city life has advantages that include connections to customers and a closer proximity to a downtown art scene, all of which are more likely to be limited in a suburban setting. Ley’s research cites a quote from a Vancouver printmaker talking about the importance of inner city life to an artist, that it has, “energy, intensity, hard to specify but hard to do without”.

Ironically, these attributes that make artists characteristic marginal gentrifiers form the same foundations for their isolation as the gentrification process matures. The later stages of the process generate an influx of more affluent, “yuppie” residents. As the bohemian character of the community grows, it appeals “not only to committed participants, but also to sporadic consumers,” and the rising property values that accompany this migration often lead to the eventual pushing out of the artists that began the movement in the first place. Sharon Zukin’s study of SoHo in Manhattan, NYC was one of the most famous cases of this phenomenon. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Manhattan lofts in SoHo were converted en masse into housing for artists and hippies, and then their sub-culture’s followers.

Ruins dated from the 1700s are used as dumpsters in Calle G and 14th street
Shared studio located on 14th street

But there are ways to mitigate this gentrification process.

Avenida Central (Diablo Rosso Art Gallery glass facade seen on left side)

Around a third of the families being forced to move away from this neighborhood have already been paying rent equal to or higher than a mortgage payment for a newly built apartment here. But, because of the informal economy and the lack of guidance, they end up moving far from the center adding transportation expenses to their already limited monthly budgets as a consequence.

I believe in education, a lot. I know that enhancing education for young adults in this area will open opportunities for formal income and allow them to move to better housing solutions within their neighborhood.

New developments on Plaza Santa Ana

I have already spoken to Panamanian artist Olga Sinclair in order to create a Creative Coding program within the Olga Sinclair Foundation. I’d like to use part of my ArtBlocks project proceeds to make this happen. We are still coming up with a budget for a first year but I have been able to bring in a real estate developer to contribute some funds and a space to do this.