Preserving an artist community – PEC plans affordable artist live-work residence

Aiming to preserve both affordable housing and a community of local artists, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) is looking to develop affordable live-work space for low-income artists in West Philadelphia. The project would transform a large vacant lot at 4050-66 Haverford Avenue into a space for artists to live, create art, and exhibit work in the community.

The design and plan of the proposed development is a collaborative effort. PEC included many partners in the process, including: neighbors on the block near the proposed development, West Philly Arts Connect (WPAC), West Philadelphia Traction Company, and architect Teddy Cruise.

“We see [this proposed development] as a way to preserve the artist community and create a bit of a hub and generate some energy on that part of Haverford Ave,” explains Kira Strong from PEC.

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PEC has submitted an application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) for Low Income Housing Tax Credits to complete the development. With the tax credits, PEC would be able to move forward on a project that has been a vision for nearly a decade.

“We are really lucky to work in communities that have had a long history of artists who reside and work here,” says Strong. In the early 2000s, PEC began partnering with artists living in their communities of Belmont, Mantua, Mill Creek, Saunders Park, and West Powelton.

In 2006, PEC conducted a study to examine art and cultural resources in the community and identify opportunities for using the arts as an engine of community revitalization. Participation from the artist community exceeded expectations. Some 40 West Philly artists contributed to the study through surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

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The study showed that artists were attracted to neighborhoods in West Philadelphia for their large stock of affordable housing, variety of active arts groups, and proximity to institutions like Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

A significant need came to the surface as well. “What we heard resoundingly was that there was a need for affordable live-work space,” said Strong, “Many artists were either being priced out or in fear of being priced out.”

Since the study, neighborhood conditions have continued to change: real estate values have risen, due to an influx of Drexel and University of Pennsylvania faculty and other higher income home-buyers.

Driven by its mission to serve and strengthen the existing communities, PEC was emboldened to figure out how to maintain its resident base, which includes local artists, while attracting additional amenities to the community.

While this unique artist live-work residence may be a few years away from ribbon-cutting, PEC will continue to preserve this population of artists “who are often the generator of neighborhood change, but less often its beneficiary.”

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