A STUDIO OF ONE’S OWN
Affordable artist community Siler Yard hits full capacity
BY JENNIFER LEVIN Jennifer Levin is a freelance communications professional and an arts and culture writer in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe New Mexican
Siler Yard’s affordable housing keeps artists in Santa Fe. Richard Perrea scoops bizcochito ice cream all day on the Santa Fe Plaza. When he hangs up his scoop for the evening, the chef and silversmith goes home to Siler Yard, Santa Fe’s first affordable housing community for artists. For Perrera, it’s a godsend. “The living situation in this town is ridiculous,” the 47-year-old born-and-raised Santa Fean says. “The housing market just keeps pushing people from here out of the community.” Siler Yard’s spring 2022 opening came after a decade-long planning process, involving design workshops with input from 35 artists as well as COVID19–related construction delays. Creative Santa Fe catalyzed the project initially by working with the city of Santa Fe and the national live-work developer Artspace. Then Daniel Werwath, executive director of New Mexico InterFaith Housing, took the reins after his nonprofit won the 2014 bidding process to lead the development. The sustainable 65-unit live-work complex reached full capacity in March in an industrial neighborhood miles away from older artist enclaves like Canyon Road, which priced out many creatives decades ago. “What’s an art town that artists can’t actually afford to live in?” Werwath asks. “We’re rapidly losing cultural and economic diversity. Artists are also so many other things in our community — therapists, healers, cooks, teachers, etc. Losing them means losing a lot of value in our community. We wanted to make housing that’s actually affordable.” Siler Yard defines an artist as anyone actively engaged in visual art, film, video, music, performing arts, writing, cooking, and even healing arts like massage therapy. Tenants must earn less than $30,000 a year, which doesn’t have to come from art sales. Rents fall between $427 and $1,185 a month, including utilities. Rents at comparable complexes in the city start at more than $1,300 for studios and more than $1,600 for one-bedroom apartments. While the apartments are fully occupied, Werwath says organizers are reexamining a planned second phase that would complete the Siler Yard Arts + Creativity Center with a maker’s space, as well as dedicated meeting, performing, and exhibition spaces. “We are still committed to making a shared community resource space there,” he says. Stable monthly living expenses allow for year-round budgeting with fewer surprises, which helps people like Perrea, whose income fluctuates seasonally along with interest in his desserts. He makes bizcochitos, which La Lecheria blends into ice cream, in his home kitchen, which is large enough to accommodate a stand mixer and other professional supplies. Assemblage artist and stand-up comedian Porter Mines also needs space and time to devote to art. Mines, 43, was injured in a car accident several years ago and depends on Social Security Disability Insurance. She hopes Siler Yard’s affordability will allow her to slowly transition to life as a full-time artist, with the goal of getting off SSDI. “I have a master’s in counseling psychology,” she says. “I wanted to be a therapist, but a lot of companies won’t hire you because they think your disability will disable their business. Now I have a standing comedy gig at Leaf & Hive [Brew Lab].” Ellen and Michael Jantzen are over 65. They live on Social Security and the proceeds from their art. Their previous living situation was unstable: they lost their rented guesthouse in Las Campanas when it sold and the new owners didn’t want to be landlords. Michael keeps his studio for his sculptural work in their second bedroom, and Ellen does her digitally manipulated photography at a desk in the spacious living room. She has settled in by growing vegetables in the community garden and flowers in pots on a small deck, where she also keeps an exercise cycle. They and their fellow tenants do have a few complaints about their new home, including noise and parking lot flooding. Mines, who is Black and queer, says some people are still adjusting to the reality of a truly diverse community. “But I love my space. The other day I was tired and I was looking forward to opening the door to my home,” she says. “This is the first time in my life where I have a place to create and be who I am.”