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Planning Board Gives Clarity to “Artist”:

What constitutes an “artist” was the focus of the Santa Monica’s Planning Commission’s May 2 meeting.

The discussion was necessary because the current municipal code section ( defines Artist Studio (“place of work by an artist”), but does not define artist. This ambiguity has been magnified recently, according to the City staff report, due to “an increase in applications for ‘artist studios’ throughout the City, particularly in the M1 and LMSD districts” by developers.

The interpretation approved by the Commission was developed by the City’s Arts Commission, a 13-member panel of working artists, and states: “A working artist is one who is recognized by critics and peers; has verifiable training in the field, credentials, and/or reputation in the field; and works in one or more of the following areas:

“1) A person who works in or is skilled in any of the fine arts, including but not limited to painting, drawing, sculpture, book arts and print making;

“2) A person who creates imaginative works of aesthetic value, including but not limited to literature, poetry, play writing, film, video, digital media works, literature, costume design, photography, architecture, music composition and conceptual art;

“3) A person who creates functional art, including but not limited to jewelry, rugs, decorative screens and grates, furniture, pottery, toys and quilts;

“4) A performer, including but not limited to singers, musicians, dancers, actors and performance artists.”

The only speaker on the subject was resident Jack Walter, who is developing a project at Stewart Street and Colorado Avenue. He questioned whether the definition was broad enough. In his view, the interpretation doesn’t cover an artist “who wants to become an artist or is just learning to be an artist” or is retired and is working in art. He suggested that the definition should instead “bring in…not just what an artist is but maybe what an artist studio is.” He proposed that the City permit artists to live “in any affordable housing unit in town” even though it is not specifically designated for an artist.

Commissioner Jay Johnson voted against the interpretation approved by his colleagues because of concern about the “City’s enforcement burden” for artist studio units.

The Board’s action was taken at the same time that the City is going through an update of its Land Use and Circulation Elements of the General Plan. This process will eventually give further long-range direction regarding the placement of artist housing.

This interpretation will become effective 14 days after the Commission’s approval and, according to the City staff report, will become “the standard framework for defining an artist when considering artist studio development under the [City’s] administrative or discretionary review process.”

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