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Sustaining Neighborhoods: Continuing the Conversation

On Saturday, February 22nd, in collaboration with La Casa Azul Bookstore, we held a workshop and panel on artists, neighborhoods, and affordable housing. It was an insightful and informative event, and we wanted to continue the conversation. We asked panelists for “short, sweet, action-oriented policy-related or creative interventions that we can all take to continue yesterday’s conversation.”


Please check out the resources in the slideshow, and keep reading for some of their responses.


Action Steps: What Can Artists Do?


Caroline Woolard

What can artists do? Here’s some actions to take:


Catalyse Change

If we make issue-based works of art, we can connect any media opportunities and interested people to existing efforts around that issue. With housing, this means informing ourselves of existing groups and telling artists and art publics about housing rights, not only making representations of housing or gentrification in our artwork.


Join the Movement

We can support anti-eviction networks, tenants’ rights organizations, go to our community board meetings, and add our skills to affordable housing initiatives as active participants, making media, strategizing for actions, and bringing beauty and vision to the movement. If you want to learn about permanently affordable land, consider joining the New York City Community Land Initiative! (


Work Together

Artists can form a base that is reliable and organized, ready to mobilize for arts and non-artists struggles. Visual artists should be as organized as actors and performers in the Actors Fund. This is what Caron Atlas has been doing with Arts and Democracy, and what I’m hoping to do with


Enforce Policy

As the new administration settles in, make sure De Blasio actually makes 200,000 new units of permanently affordable housing, taxes absentee landlords, and protects renters:


Welcome All Work

We can respect the importance multiple tactics, of resisting and creating, not ignoring policy and state-organized affordable housing while building “alternatives” that may only be accessible to a limited group or a wealthy minority. We can be humble and kind to everyone involved, as this is going to be a lifelong struggle for housing as a human right.


Shawn McLearen

My recommended action: bring your artist friends to community board meetings to learn more about the issues facing your community and the people volunteering to advance them.


Adeola Enigbokan

I never forget James Baldwin, Harlem renter, traveler and artist/activist extraordinaire: “There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.” In Creative America, Ridge Press, 1962.


Rebecca Sauer

It was a wonderful day and dialogue!


I certainly agree with Shawn’s suggestion for artists and their neighbors to get involved in their community boards.


I also think that artists can get involved by helping to break down complex housing policies and systems and explaining them to their peers and neighbors in new ways. The Center for Urban Pedagogy is really good at this, evidenced by the What is Affordable Housing? booklet: These types of actions would be particularly helpful in this moment of policy transition.


Esther Robinson

Thank you so much for such an awesome idea-and-action-filled day!

What can artists do?


If you think affordable housing is a problem…. don’t just try to solve it for yourself…. join coalitions that are working to solve it for our city as a whole (if you are not the coalition type…. donate your $ or time to their work!) Some examples of things to do in this regard…


  • The campaign for inclusionary zoning at Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development
  • Keep the pressure on DeBlasio’s affordable housing goals
  • Join the mailing lists for organizations like The Pratt Area Community Council and The Fifth Avenue Commitee or Organizing for Occupation to learn what actions and coalitions you could help support.
  • Everything on Caroline’s list…
  • If you want to purchase a home, make sure you get the appropriate training
  • download a Homebuyer Training handbook for an overview and a list of training partners
  • Sign up for your local City Council Person’s email list to keep up on hyper-local news– and to discover new ways to support your local community that include housing and other ways to be supportive.
  • But most importantly, be a great neighbor.
  • Commit to the place where you live, care about your neighbors, work with your community to solve problems, celebrate victories and build the New York we can all prosper within…


Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts, and stay tuned for more issue-based talks like Sustaining Neighborhoods coming up in the future!

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