ArtCondo is an innovative initiative that helps New York City artists and creative firms develop real estate and establish stable communities that are artistically-based and creatively driven. It was founded by artist and CEO Michele Gambetta who counts artist Matthew Fletcher as a business partner.
When I first got word of this, I contacted them immediately for an interview. But is ArtCondo www.artcondo.com a social mission or straight-up business? It’s a fascinating concept that seems to be working. Read on and find out more …
“… It’s not coincidental that wars are fought over land … We are dealing with the realities of competition for land, construction costs and the need for the project to be sustainable … ArtCondo was started as way to address gentrification by helping to create more rooted owners who can't be pushed out of homes …” – Michele Gambetta
MICHAEL: Hello Michele and Matthew, You guys have created something that seems really exciting. ArtCondo. What is it and why did you guys create it? What's the goal? What's the significance of that name?
MICHELE: Hi Michael, Thank you for opportunity to talk about ArtCondo. I'll kick us off and then we can continue!
ArtCondo is a community-focused real estate project to help creative people purchase space in New York City collectively. The project is being motivated by the idea of collective action and Do-It-Yourself self-empowerment and our knowledge that artists working together have a huge wealth of unique resources, creativity, and skills!
Matt and I worked on a mobile gallery called “Rider Project” together about 10 years ago. It was also about self-empowerment and community and grounded in the ideas of Joseph Beuys; the ideas that art can create positive social change. So that's the conceptual basis of the ArtCondo project.
MICHAEL: And what’s the goal of ArtCondo?
MICHELE: Our overall goal is to help creative workers in NYC - artists, creative businesses, non-profits - become anchored in their neighborhoods so they are no longer displaced and as a potential method to slow gentrification. Renting is inherently transient and can yield higher rents more quickly. Owners sell more slowly. The significance of the ArtCondo name is that we are working to help artists create condominiums with us.
MICHAEL: Wow. Very cool. And so, how's it going? You know, it's a challenge to get people to work together, let alone artists who have their own individual struggles and who often don't want to spend a lot of time doing things that will take them away from their art. What challenges are you guys facing?
MATT: Definitely time and money. There's never enough of either. ArtCondo is very important to me and I'd very much like it to succeed, but it's not as important to me as painting or paying the mortgage (sorry, Michele!). So there's a constant struggle to get everything done. Like any business getting started, ArtCondo demands a crazy amount of attention.
I'd love to outsource some of the work we're not especially qualified to do (database architecture and ad copywriting come to mind), but we've really got to be conscious of money and these sorts of specialty work don't come cheap (for good reason). So, we end up taking even more time than normal to do things that we're not great at, which further increases time demands.
MICHELE: I totally agree! Time and money are probably the biggest constraints for us at ArtCondo, as well as for all of the participating artists who want to purchase. ArtCondo is basically a DIY start-up trying to kick-off a multi-million dollar development project with no money... Ha!
At least that was the original plan. The idea was for Matt and I to invest the needed time and sweat equity to turn a “great idea,” which everyone loved, into a functioning company, but then it turned out that we needed about $100,000 or so to get the needed legal done. No way around that. So that money is borrowed from small investors and needs to be paid back.
MICHELE: I try to take these challenges as opportunities to use our creativity to create new methods, knowledge, models etc. All of the artists have similar conflicts between desire and lack of time and money. We have a “sweat equity” model, so artists who give their efforts can gain credit toward a future purchase.
MICHAEL: That sounds great.
MICHELE: You still need real money, but it’s an attempt to address issues in creative way. And we are actively looking to create new purchasing and ownership models to address problems further.
The overarching thing is that everything we do and learn now will inform the whole ArtCondo culture and enterprise in the future. This is a true artist project, based in artists’ issues. And we are building this thing piece by piece, but it’s totally tough. A lot of eeking by.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I bet. You know, it's one thing to complain about the difficulties associated with being an artist or creative person, but it's quite another to actually roll up your sleeves and try to tackle the problems, so kudos to you guys. I actually think that many of the problems in the contemporary art world can be fixed, but you cannot do that until you can get people to work together to address them. Art shouldn't be a competitive sport. Artists are powerful, but I don't think they realize that their skills and insight translate OUTSIDE of art. What do you guys think about this?
MICHELE: I totally agree. It became clear with the RIDER Project, which was a DIY guerilla gallery meant to give participating artists a way to show their work in Chelsea and around the city, that ARTISTS BRING RICH RESOURCES.
Artists are typically very smart and have unique skills. And the power of creativity is really undervalued at times. Art and creativity within the art world - which is a relatively antiseptic culture, with museums being like the uber-mausoleum - is one thing … However, creativity let loose into the world can be a while 'nother thing... Very powerful and vital.
MICHELE: We’re able to confront and crack problems using new angles, views, and twists. We think of entrepreneurs and scientists as tapping their creativity for real-world activities, but artists are even farther outside the dominant paradigm. And they are often able to learn complex systems from scratch and critically analyze them. It’s potentially very powerful.
MICHAEL: What do you guys make of the current real estate market in NYC? I mean, I applaud your efforts, but there's a much greater problem here. Cities like NYC and San Francisco have become super-expensive for even for very well-to-do people. I love watching shows like "Million Dollar Listing New York," but when plutocrats from other parts of the world are snapping up $30 million apartments as mere investments and homeless people are still on the streets, something is very wrong. Can cities thrive when they're basically only occupied by super-wealthy people? Am I getting too deep?
MICHELE: I'm going to jump in here, and then let Matt answer. Anything involving artists and real estate touches upon the “deep issues” you are bringing up. This crap IS complex, serious and there are no easy answers.
We are working to forge new alternatives by taking the DIY approach and that applies across the board. But the real estate market in NYC is brutal. It’s often very big, fast money. It’s aggressive, sharky and filled with some exceptionally greedy and opportunistic people looking to make a killing.
MICHAEL: Yuh think?
MICHELE: It’s not coincidental that wars are fought over land. And yes, there’s definitely a problem with people living better than kings while others are homeless. I think the inherent problem is Capitalism, but that’s a whole 'nother discussion.
ArtCondo is working within the existing system. We have zero subsidies so our project is mostly market rate, with the savings coming from creative thinking. We are dealing with the realities of competition for land, construction costs and the need for the project to be sustainable. We can't work for free forever. Basically, there is no free lunch. But ArtCondo was started as way to address gentrification by helping to create more rooted owners who can't be pushed out of homes, and so we are actively thinking about these issues, and trying to forge approaches which will help artists to buy as well as other people in existing neighborhoods.
MICHAEL: How are you guys managing ArtCondo and your individual work as artists? How are you doing this? Many artists want to support social missions, but choose to focus solely on their work instead.
MATT: When I took my last job, I negotiated Fridays off, so I always have at least one solid day in the studio. I have some time to paint even if the rest of the week is shot, but it still takes a lot of effort. There's always something to do and everyone I know treats my studio day as a 'day off' as if I'm not in the office. It helps that I can be very selfish about my time and email and phones can be turned off.
I really don't consider ArtCondo a social mission, though. It's a business. It's one I'm particularly interested in as I've been both a “gentrifier” and an artist displaced by gentrification, but I'm not involved through any feelings of altruism.
MICHELE: I'm not doing the art making I used to. ArtCondo is a full-time thing for me, but it's also a huge creative endeavor. I think of it falling within the realm of “Social Practice” and related to artist works like project Rowhouse, IdeasX Lab, Gia Hamilton and Theaster Gates’ work, but it is a business and needs to be sustainable.
MICHAEL: I totally understand both of you. Finally guys, what is your proudest achievement thus far and what's the ultimate goal for ArtCondo?
MATT: Definitely when we found the perfect Pantone color for our logo. We have two 'official' logos, one in CMYK for print, and one in hex for the web. They aren't exactly the same being different color models entirely, so when we found a printer who asked for an exact Pantone swatch...
Just messing. It was when we bought a chunk of the Bronx!
MICHELE: LOL. Guess that was a revealing question. Fact is that there was an enormous amount of work done to buy the land. We failed in multiple attempts to purchase buildings/land while investing 50-60 hour weeks for more than three years and an enormous amount of money - retirement funds - on the line. All while earning no income. So the combination of all the work, plus money risked, contribute to the feeling of happiness, some relief and some pride with the purchase.
MICHAEL: Wow. That’s fantastic.
MICHELE: As a group, we actually jumped a high hurdle, which so many people trip on, and which could have sunk us. But WE DID IT! It’s honestly only 30% of the challenge, but a huge 30%!
ArtCondo's invitation by the Department of Cultural Affairs to join Focus Group about Affordable Studio Spaces with established NYC cultural leaders in the housing space is probably the next most important thing to feel proud about. It could help us greatly in NYC. Mayor DeBlasio’s Cultural Initiative which has a goal of 1500 new live/work spaces for artists, could help influence space issues for artists throughout NYC and I'm hopeful we will get to participate in that.
We’re happily functioning as an innovative, sustainable company while creatively addressing artists' needs for work space and live/work spaces. That’s our ultimate goal.
MICHAEL: Fantastic. Thanks for chatting with me guys. My very best wishes to you in the future. Please keep me up to date about ArtCondo.
MICHELE: Thanks for contacting us Michael! I'll put you on our VIP press list!
MATT: Thanks Michael!