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Can Mobile Architecture Alleviate the Affordable Studio Space Crisis?

The ArtBuild Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelpiha (courtesy Esther Robinson)
The ArtBuilt Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelphia (courtesy Esther Robinson)

One of the biggest pressures on artist finances is the rental cost of a studio. ArtBuilt Mobile Studios out of Brooklyn is a new initiative for nomadic studios from salvaged or donated materials and volunteer labor that artists can afford to own, and relocate with them to break out of the studio rental cycle that can be a detriment to productivity along with funds.

“Instead of an ongoing financial drain, workspaces could become an asset for the longterm, freeing up income for things like retirement savings and medical insurance,” Esther Robinson, the founder of ArtHome, told Hyperallergic. ArtBuilt Mobile Studios is a collaboration between ArtHome and ArtBuilding, both of which have years of addressing artist economics, with ArtHome focused on a support system for financial literacy and asset-building, and ArtBuilding on affordable spaces with ownership opportunities for artists.

“ArtBuilt Mobile Studios grew out of the way these twin approaches can dovetail to create a new ownership opportunity for artists at a scale that fits their usually tight finances, while simultaneously addressing a crisis in affordable, appropriate workspace that impacts artists across the country,” Robinson explained. “Because these studios can be built at an extremely low price-point, they give artists who might never qualify for a commercial lease or even a home loan a chance to own their own workspace.”

The ArtBuild Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelpiha (courtesy Esther Robinson)
The ArtBuilt Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelphia (courtesy Esther Robinson)

Over the next two years, prototype mobile studios will be tested in different environments, with the first deployed this month in Philadelphia at the Village of Arts and Humanities. Next month it travels with the Philadelphia-based People’s Paper Co-op art collective to Ideas City hosted by the New Museum from May 28 to 30. Then in the summer, it relocates to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in partnership with the Queens Museum, where artists can apply for month-long residencies.

The simple, trailer-sized design of wood and metal with its broad door and windows that can be closed with locking panels is similar to other alternative building projects, such as the “tiny houses” proposed to address homelessness, rising rents, and other housing issues. In addition to serving as studio spaces, ArtBuilt Mobile Studios is proposed as a solution for other changing spaces, from commercial corridors that have fallen on rough economic times to bring in small-scale entrepreneurs, alongside areas that have gentrified so extensively that artists, nonprofits, small businesses, and cultural spaces are priced out. Like organizations such as the Artist Studio Affordability Project and Spaceworks in New York, ArtBuilt Mobile Studios recognizes that studio accessibility is part of a wider issue in cities where neighborhoods are rapidly rising in prices over a short period of time, constantly putting artists and others in middle and lower-income brackets on the move.

“We think that solutions that serve artists can have a much broader application, so a small, affordable mobile workspace that makes it easier for an artist to thrive can perform the same function for other folks who make our communities livable and exciting,” Robinson added, citing “small nonprofits and social service providers, quirky small businesses, and micro-enterprise entrepreneurs whose businesses work best at street level” as examples. “Like artists, all of these are pieces of our streetscapes and communities we don’t want to lose, and we think mobile workspaces could be an effective solution for them as well.”

The ArtBuilt Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelphia (courtesy Esther Robinson)
The ArtBuilt Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelphia (courtesy Esther Robinson)
The ArtBuild Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelpiha (courtesy Esther Robinson)
The ArtBuilt Mobile Studios prototype in Philadelphia (courtesy Esther Robinson)

ArtBuilt Mobile Studios will be at the New Museum’s 2015 Ideas City from May 28 to 30. Artists can apply for four-week residencies for its summer at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in partnership with the Queens Museum through May 15.

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