In the 5300 block of West Lake, there is a community of artists. They come from all over the city to Austin to work in their affordable, creative refuge.
The building at 5339 W. Lake, which welcomed its first occupants nearly five years ago, is one of the few, affordable artist spaces in the city, according to studio manager Noah Singer.
Singer, a Humboldt Park resident, previously worked on his art at what’s now known as the Fulton Corridor at Damen Street and Grand Avenue.
Singer said Wicker Park and the surrounding area used to be the spot for artist studios, but because of gentrification, the artist spaces have been pushed out.
“Five years ago, the property values in that area skyrocketed. All of that area was gentrified; it’s all galleries and coffee shops and breweries down there now.”
Laura Miracle, a Ukrainian Village resident, left Humboldt Park for similar reasons.
The sculptor and Columbia College Chicago faculty member moved into the Austin building last year after a friend told her about it. She use to work at the Kimball Art Center in Humboldt Park.
It was a thriving, grassroots art center until developers came in and wanted to make it a more marketable, trendy place because of its proximity to the 606 trail. Many of the artists left the space after that.
Miracle’s new space is 980 square feet, which she notes is the same size as her apartment.
“Finding a space of your own that is separate from your home is a really good direction. If you are not in a position to afford a space in your home, sharing space with other artists is really good and productive.”
This is also the first time Miracle has a creative space of her own.
Aristotle Koranos, CEO of The Health Equity Project, bought the Austin building after a friend told him it was for sale. He noted how there’s 144,o00 square feet of space, but just 200 square feet had been used in this way until now since the early 90s.
When he found it five years ago it was falling apart and likely facing demolition.
“The city doesn’t need any more empty lots. To me, it’s a crime to tear down things all the time,” he said.
Koranos, who lives on the North Side, said he saw a need for artist space in Austin, especially because properties that have artists communities in them have been in decline over the last 20 years.
“If you don’t have a creative group in a community, I think it hurts the overall makeup of the community,” Koranos said.
He also purchased some of the empty lots in the neighborhood and has plans to convert them into community gardens.
Half of the lot next to the building is used for parking, while the other half will have a garden as well as honey since the Chicago Honey Co-op relocated 15 hives east of the building last year.
Because of the pandemic, the garden project is delayed until next year.
The idea for gardens came to Koranos when he noticed all of the empty lots in Austin. He said having more community gardens can help improve the community’s overall health by providing access to fresh produce.
While Koranos isn’t an artist, he said his creativity lies in “trying to make underutilized things useful.”
There are three spaces currently available in the building, which can be viewed here.