April 1st of last year I was homeless, penniless and jobless, but I had a studio in 450 Harrison Ave in SoWa. I still remember how proud I was the first time I went in to work. I felt professional. Up until that time I’d always managed to make a corner in my apartment an Art Corner, but I was suffering from isolation. I imagined 450 as a place where people spent time at all hours of the day, would congregate and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and look at each other’s work. Unless there is some anomaly at my studio door that causes a rip in the fabric of space/time and means that I’m actually working in basement in Des Moines, I will be forced to admit it: I was wrong. I give up.
I’ve wondered why this might be and have come up with a few possibilities. First, there are really only 50 artists in 450. The rest is filled with design firms, photo and printmaking studios and, of course, galleries. I work during the day, and most of the building’s traffic is associated with those businesses, rather than with the artists. Secondly, many of the artists in the building seem to be a generation or so ahead of me. Though theoretically this shouldn’t bar human contact, I imagine it makes small talk more difficult. Finally, the art I make doesn’t seem to appeal to anyone. I’ve always considered my work to be relatively conservative in the arena of contemporary art – it’s still dealing in color and composition, albeit in a non-traditional medium. Apparently (and I don’t know if this is a Boston thing or what) that makes my stuff just shy of Crazy Town. If it’s not oil or watercolor, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’ve had people at Open Studios back away with wide eyes that indicated something like shock (which I find hilarious), and received comments that my work is “a little unusual” compared to other things in the building. Of course this goes both ways, and I have certainly held myself apart because I didn’t see work that I could relate to. Regardless, since I moved in thirteen months ago I’ve only met eight artists in the building counting my studio mate.
This sense of isolation increased with the creation last year of the SoWa Artists’ Guild. Membership fees for this organization were around $500 for the first year, and though they hoped to bring people together and promote all of our interests I felt like you weren’t welcome if you were an artist who didn’t have $500 to throw around, and I didn’t. Twenty-three artists joined the guild, making them a solid minority.
Any Guild-related tensions in the building seemed to be non-existent as they put up signs and stickers throughout the fall. I hardly noticed it. Then, in the last month, the Guild made an agreement with our landlord to administrate the use of the lobby space. In short, they were responsible for producing and framing posters for artists who wanted them at a cost of about $50 for Guild members and about $150 for non-members, payable to the Guild. This set off some angry letter writing and though it has since been resolved to some mutually-agreed upon outcome (of which I’ve not yet been informed), people are still a little testy about the whole thing.
Although I met more people in the last week of Guild-related anger than I have in the previous six months, I’ve had enough. I imagined that having a studio in a popular, public building would be a good way to be exposed to new work, or at least to meet people. That has not been then case. I was naïve in thinking that because there were artists in the building there would automatically be a strong sense of community, but to not assume that is just depressing. What we do as artists is so inherently isolating that to keep the work vital I think we must absolutely rely on outside interactions. These shouldn’t be so hard to come by. Obviously 450 is not the place for me, and I’m left wondering what is it that makes a good workspace, and how I’m ever going to find it.
Soon enough I’ll be back working in my apartment where I won’t have to worry about the paper thin walls that allow me to be bombarded by ABBA and the BeeGees Live on one side and get me in trouble for playing Cat Power too loudly on the other. I’ll be in a controllable environment where no one can bother me. And that sucks.