As neighborhoods like Logan Square and Humboldt Park experience rapid change, art galleries and artists are some of the first to feel it, next to longtime residents and community members. On July 13, members of the local art community gathered to discuss the need of Alternative Space.
Heaven Gallery, located in Wicker Park, held a panel entitled “Gentrification Without Art Displacement” to discuss art displacement as developers and wealthier residents move into neighborhoods, and several panel members are part of the Logan Square art community.
The panel itself was moderated by Teresa Silva from Chicago Artists Coalition and Tiger Strikes Asteroid. The lengthy list of panel members included Alma Wieser from Heaven Gallery, Edra Soto and Gina Hunt from The Franklin, Oscar Gonzalez Diaz, Gareth Kaye from Apparatus Projects, Lynn Basa of Corner Project, and Tempestt Hazel who is Arts Program Officer at Field Foundation and Co-Founder of Sixty Inches From Center.
To start, the panel established a definition of “gentrification” to use when speaking of the changing neighborhoods. The definition, from professor of Urban Planning at UIC Pete Saunders, explains gentrification as “the transition of a community from low-income or working-class to affluent through mass influx or migration.”
The panel focused not only on the need of an alternative space for an artist or art gallery, but for the challenges that come with a changing neighborhood, and the host Heaven Gallery was a prime example.
“The owner of this building—this is last building he owns—is wanting to sell,” said Weiser, from Heaven Gallery. “His family has owned property in the area for a long time, and he’s actually been renting to artists since the 80s.”
According to Weiser, “renting to artists makes the value of property go up because now this is a cultural hub.”
But, while artists are a part of a changing neighborhood, they don’t see any influence once the process has started, she said.
“Artists pay into it but don’t have any recourse when the building is ready to sell,” she said.
Another voice on the panel, Lynn Basa of the Corner Project, offered a different view.
The Corner Project is a Logan Square initiative founded by Basa to help revitalize three blocks of Logan Square, but on the community’s terms. Through her work there, she’s developed a more nuanced view of how and why neighborhoods change. She is also a longtime neighborhood resident and is active in the Woodard Plaza community group.
“Through the Corner Project I’ve learned a lot about the movement of capital and displacement… and they’re owners who are the second or third generation of ownership,” Basa said. “The older people are dying off and they want to sell, and they’re the ones who want to sell.”
She calls this gentrification in action, which can be seen all along Milwaukee Avenue and in several buildings near the Corner Project.
“Gentrification is technically when someone sees value in a property that has depreciated enough that they can see enough reason in investing in it and putting it up for a profit…. and because of the disadvantage and outright bias toward people of color, it’s often those areas that fall,” she said.
While the sentiment in the room appeared to be that artists were a driving force in a neighborhood becoming more affluent, Basa disagreed.
“Artists are more of a symptom…[they] aren’t making that much difference. It’s actually the transit lines…and that’s why you see so much development around transit hubs,” she said.
The panel dove deeper into the issues of how artists can maintain their space as property values soar, what kind of art artists should be making to represent their community, and much more. To learn more about each of the panelists’ respective organizations, click the links below.
Featured photo: Tom Vlodek