By Jess Winans
North Park art gallery forced to move
As the issue of rising rent continues to plague Uptown neighborhoods, local art galleries are being forced to shut their doors or relocate to other neighborhoods — if they’re lucky enough to find a new spot before their eviction date.
The Studio Door in North Park is one of those art galleries. Owned and operated by artist and entrepreneur Patric Stillman, the gallery must close or relocate by the end of August.
Stillman and The Studio Door were initially lucky. Their landlord sympathized with the arts and was excited to watch their small business grow. But, when the building’s landlord passed away, her children sold the space to a new owner, who is raising rent from $2,000 to $9,000 per month.
“Because of the state of the building and the rent prices, I don’t think any bank wanted to give the new owner a loan,” Stillman said. “So they set up with a bridge loan which requires the owners to make all kinds of improvements to the space and really raise the rents to market value.”
“Even if the new owners are art sympathetic as well, they’re tied by the banks that said they need to get the rent up to what the market will bear,” he continued.
Ethan van Thillo, executive director of the Media and Arts Center San Diego who Stillman worked with prior to opening The Studio Door, knows this trend all too well.
“It’s frustrating across the board,” van Thillo said. “We’ve seen it time and time again, artists come into a community and help take these buildings and fix them up.”
Stillman has contributed to the North Park art scene for the past 10 years, working as a co-founder of the Media Arts Center San Diego, hosting the San Diego Latino Film Festival and working on various personal art projects.
After seven years of working at The Digital Gym, Stillman decided to open The Studio Door.
“I decided it was time to do what I needed to do, which was get back into the arts and creativity of not only running a business but being an artist,” he said.
The Studio Door serves not only as an art gallery but also an oasis for local artists who call the North Park place their home base.
“I started using this space when we opened about four years ago,” said Little Italy artist Chris Smith. “My favorite part of using this space is the community we have between all of the artists. I’m bummed about the closure of The Studio Door but I’m hopeful. I can always find a studio somewhere else, but I’m hopeful that we will find another Studio Door.”
At The Studio Door, studio spaces are available for rent. Classes — such as “Business for Artists 101,” “Paint Night,” and a professional artist weekend retreat — are offered, as well as the option for artists, businessmen and women to create their own workshops.
Since its opening, over 1,700 artists have participated in Studio Door workshops.
“The government does a great job supporting the nonprofit world, but not supporting artists who are trying to become small businessmen or women or small businesses like art galleries trying to establish themselves,” Stillman said. “It makes it very difficult for those things to get past that point.”
In addition to operating a gallery, providing studio space to artists, and holding workshops, The Studio Door also holds a yearly exhibition with an accompanying publication, “50 to Watch.”
“The ‘50 to Watch’ publication goes out to 2,500 galleries around the country,” Stillman said. “Even though San Diego is very competitive, with five of the largest arts metropolitan areas in California, if people are coming to California they think they’re going to go to San Francisco or Los Angeles to buy art. This [‘50 to Watch’] is an effort to say, ‘Hey, we have really quality art here too.’”
Since the gallery is not a nonprofit organization, it cannot accept donations. Instead, it is funded by artists renting studio spaces, juried shows with entry fees, commissions on sales, and workshops.
Stillman is currently working on finding a new space for his gallery and bringing attention to the greater issue of rising rent and closing art galleries in San Diego. He is reaching out to the Small Business Finance Association (SBFA) to see if there are ways to keep rent costs down, asking the city of San Diego if there are small business funds available, and talking to organizations he is involved with for guidance and collaboration opportunities.
“Certainly, knowing that this is going to be a finite space, I really want people to come and enjoy it while it’s here,” Stillman said. “And with the uncertainty of the future, I would like people, especially art patrons, to support not only the artists that are exhibiting in the gallery, but really importantly the artists who are working here. Their worlds are being turned upside down.”
“What makes North Park so special is the art. We need to encourage more artists and galleries to want to work there,” van Thillo said. “But, if they’re [landlords and building owners] tripling their rent, that’s just going to push small businesses and artists out of the neighborhood.”
The Studio Door is currently located at 3750 30th St. between North Park Way and Gunn Street. For more information, visit thestudiodoor.com.
[Editor’s Note: Additional coverage on the rise of Uptown art gallery closures will be featured in an upcoming issue of San Diego Uptown News.]
—Jess Winans is the editorial assistant at the San Diego Community News Network, parent company of the San Diego Uptown News. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.