Sunday, August 16, 2009

Response to Artist Squatters on NPR

This weeks posting is a response to a radio broadcast on NPR. A link to the full broadcast can be found here. This news piece explained about a situation in Berlin involving a bombed out building from WW II that has been taken over by artists.

The story explains that upon the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980's, a community of artists developed in what was once a large department store. This store had been heavily damaged by allied bombing at the end of WW II, and remained neglected throughout the Cold War due to its close proximity to the Berlin Wall. Eric Westervelt, the NPR reporter, explained how after the wall fell, artists moved in to the building and used it as a makeshift community to create and sell art. They have been doing this for the past 20 years. The reporter went on to describe how the buildings current owners now want to evict the artists and set up a new commercial tourist district on this site. The artists have banded together and are refusing to leave. It's become a legal issue and is set to go to court.

I found this piece interesting, but I do take issue with one thing that Westervelt said. He identified the artists as "squatters," however if you listen closely, the artists have always paid rent. It was a very low rent, but they have always paid their part. I don't necessarily think they could be labeled as squatters.

My second comment relates to something one of the artists interviewed said. Kuri Haran, an artist from Japan said that this was a unique place, but I'm not so sure it is. I know of several cities and towns in the United States that are trying to establish themselves as artist communities. These cities offer artists low interest loans to develop their studios and galleries in what are often historically important examples of American Architecture. The hope is that artists will move in, and bring a vibrant new life to communities that are struggling. As far as I know, these new artist communities have been met with some success. This is very similar to the community established by the artists in Berlin.

I'm not sure the artists should be removed from the building in Berlin. I think the established community of artists could work closely with the buildings owners to create a new environment to work and sell their art. Perhaps the art towns of the United States could serve as an example. If you have comments, leave them below, and I will see you next week.

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