Home studio or artists’ cooperative?

Would moving enhance your career? Probably not.

My former studio.

My first professional studio space was a corner of our kitchen. The light was good and it had a laminate floor. A few years later, we enclosed our garage, adding full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs and cat5 wiring.

Then we moved. I rented a space on the top floor of the Hungerford Building in Rochester. It was a large room facing east with beautiful light. Eventually I relocated my studio to the third floor of our house. This was a quirky, beautiful space with great light and lousy headroom. After a few years of bumping my head, I reshuffled my workspace in the former master bedroom at the head of the stairs. That studio was 325 square feet, large enough to teach six students. Here in Maine, I have a large, light room that’s about a third of the total square footage of my house.
My current studio.
A dedicated home studio seems less expensive, but that is an illusion. The median list price per square foot in the United States is $140, according to Zillow. Special-purpose industrial space averages $11.25 a square foot/year. My last studio’s only upgrade was a better lighting system, but that still cost me thousands of dollars.
It is only cheaper to work from home if you already have space to burn. For my friends in New York City, where space is at a premium, a rented studio is often a better option.
Will your projected art income can really cover an additional rent payment? A home studio is already wrapped into your current rent or mortgage. Renting a studio is cheaper than adding on, but the cheapest solution is to repurpose an underutilized space you’re already paying for.
A professional studio needs good light (natural and enhanced), adequate storage, room to work, a space for office work, wi-fi, and separation from other people and activity. If you’re teaching, you also need to consider access to a restroom, handicapped accessibility, and safety.
Storage is something we often fail to consider when calculating our space needs.
Art materials should be kept away from food prep areas. That’s especially true of pastels, which allow pigment to be airborne. Having said that, risks associated with oil paints are overstated. Still, the pigments in art supplies—and some solvents—aren’t good to ingest. I ran a whole-house air cleaner in my first house.
I need an orderly environment. It’s difficult for me to pick up my brushes when there are dishes in the sink. I don’t like visitors to my studio. It was that need for order that drove me to a rented studio when my kids were little. However, I found myself leaving work every afternoon at 3:30 when my youngest child got home from school. I had more flexibility than my husband, who worked from an office. 
Is the neighborhood in which your cooperative studio is located really safe? In Rochester, my studio was on the fringes of a tough neighborhood. I could work late at night in my locked studio; the parking lot and corridors were the problem.
325 square feet was sufficient to teach six students.
How introverted are you? Some artists are challenged and motivated by other artists nearby. Others find community to be a distraction. However, the network you build in an artist’s cooperative can be invaluable; so too can their cooperative art shows.
Will an outside studio enhance your career? Unless you’re in a prestigious cooperative, no. Neither gallerists nor potential clients judge you by your address; they care about your work.

Reflecting on the Oakland fire

"High Falls, Rochester," by Carol L. Douglas

“High Falls, Rochester,” by Carol L. Douglas
Years ago, I rented studio space in a converted warehouse dedicated to artists. For the most part its tenants were serious mid-career professionals who worked there by day and lived elsewhere by night. However, there were also squatters, artists who lived there illegally.
The presence of these squatters was an open secret. The fire department visited regularly to try to flush them out, but the squatters had a sixth sense. In the entire time I rented there, the woman living in the space next to mine was never caught. She worked, which meant she was never around during the day when inspections are carried out.

A clothing designer rented the space on the other side of my studio for her inventory; her workshop was in the next space over. Garment manufacture is a dusty and flammable business. My own studio had shelves full of oil-based solvents and varnishes. We were on the top floor, and the rafters of our 19thcentury building were soaked in creosote, which would drop in fat strings through the still air of hot summer days. Even with sprinklers (which we had), a fire would have been disastrous.
I have been reading about Oakland’s tragic fire in an artist’s collective. There is always a fringe of people in every art community whose major life work appears to be being “arty.” Their spaces are chaotic and, since they’re not great respecters of rules, their stuff often spills out into public areas. Their over-sized personalities make them charismatic, and they draw others into their orbit. It doesn’t surprise me that a pair of middle-aged poseurs thoughtlessly led so many young people to their deaths.
"View from my studio window, North Rochester," by Carol L. Douglas

“View from my studio window, North Rochester,” by Carol L. Douglas
Many artists are terrifically poor. With that comes social isolation. When you’re already paying rent for a studio, it is tempting to move a futon into a corner, add a cook top and refrigerator, and then sort of drift into living there, especially when your friends are doing the same thing.
That is so dangerous. The same building codes that protect people in residential units also raise the cost of building and maintaining those units, but you get what you pay for.
In a nutshell, young artists, if you’re thinking of squatting in your studio, don’t. And if you’re invited to an after-hours party in a collective building, think carefully about whether the space is safe.
Anyways, you have work to do. Being an artist is not a lifestyle; it’s a job. Art poseurs make real artists look shallow and unrealistic. Their talk is just so much hot air. Your real future lies in producing consistent work and finding venues in which to sell it.