Olympia group finds interest in promoting affordable live-work spaces for people who create

ahobbs@theolympian.comMarch 29, 2014 

For starving artists in Olympia, a little rent goes a long way.

The Olympia ArtSpace Alliance recently conducted a survey to gauge interest in building an affordable community where artists can live and work. The alliance wants this residential project to come to fruition in the next five years, possibly in downtown Olympia.

Some local artists already embrace the concept. One example is The Nuit House, an artist collective at 1304 Cherry St. NE in downtown Olympia.

Five artists live in the four-bedroom house, which measures 2,662 square feet. The artists represent painting, writing, music and film. The basement serves as a work space that includes art tools, a drum kit and a painting room.

“Olympia is poised to be the Santa Fe of Washington,” said Izi Ningishzidda, who specializes in occultist and pagan artwork — and finds harmony in the company of like-minded people. “Being around other artists helps to inspire you.”

Prospective tenants must “show their work” and prove they put effort into being artists. Likewise, collective living means cheaper living: Artists at the house pay $475 a month in rent, which covers utilities. Residents share common space, including a yard and garden. Affordability, however, is critical for the collective’s survival.

“If the rent went up here, there’s no way any of the artists could afford to live here anymore,” Ningishzidda said. “Most artists are poor.”

Ningishzidda co-manages the collective with her boyfriend, m1thr0s (pronounced “menthros”), who specializes in sacred geometry art. Eventually, the collective’s founders want the house to double as a gallery.

“If we could pepper the whole town with art collectives, I’d be a happy camper,” said m1thr0s. “The collective concept also opens the possibility to artists spending more money on art.”

As one of three new residents at The Nuit House, Geary Buxton is wrapping up his first science fiction novel. At 63, Buxton has spent much of his life in the Olympia arts scene. He has a background in arts management, and for several years, he danced with a local ballet company. For a day job, he works as a photographer.

“It’s stimulating when you’re around creative people,” said Buxton, who has long supported the idea of a self-sustaining artist community.

Aside from affordable housing, he said, artists also need room to “get down and dirty” with paints, sculptures and theater set pieces.

“What we need is not some sort of cathedral to the arts,” Buxton said. “We need a place where people can work.”

Released this month, the ArtSpace survey asked nearly 700 participants about building “live-work” spaces for artists. About 200 respondents are interested in relocating to an affordable arts community in Olympia, and half of those artists reported an income of less than $25,000 a year.

ArtSpace supporters say the presence of more downtown housing can act as an economic catalyst. The survey reveals that up to 52 live-work spaces can be supported in downtown Olympia, but interest also exists for such spaces on Olympia’s west and east sides. The project will be modeled after similar lofts in Seattle and Everett.

Although she supports the ArtSpace concept, State of the Arts Gallery owner Deb Moody noted the economic difficulties of making a living through art. She credits an “angel of a landlord” for keeping her gallery’s rent affordable in such a prime location at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street.

Moody has owned State of the Arts in downtown Olympia for 22 years, and at the time, it was one of three art galleries in the area. The gallery includes Moody’s mixed media artwork and some items from local artists. She said the business makes enough money to stay open and pay her health insurance.

“This is a labor of love,” said Moody, who has a 200-square-foot art studio at her home a couple of miles away.

“I haven’t drawn a salary in 22 years.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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