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Peekskill Revisiting Art Loft Requirements

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – It's a question that has been asked for centuries: What can be considered art?

That question is being pondered by Peekskill officials as they consider creating a broader range of definitions for the word "artist" in order to allow more people a chance to purchase the city's art loft properties.

Director of Economic Development James Slaughter told Common Council members at Monday's Committee of the Whole Meeting that he has received many inquiries from people interested in living in the art lofts who do not qualify, even though they work in the creative industries.

Fine arts, design, music, graphic, literary, computer and visual arts are already covered, as are architects.  Director of planning Anthony Ruggierio told the council staff there are plans to add culinary arts to the list to allow chefs to qualify as well.

The idea behind the lofts is that the artist creates something to share with the public, explained city planner Jean Friedman.

"We don't look at income, but they do need to be showing that they're offering their work out to the public – it can't just be something they're producing for themselves in their unit," Friedman said.

Another question is whether people who make a living in the arts but are not artists, such as art gallery owners or book publishers, would qualify to live in the lofts.

Deputy Mayor Drew Claxton asked city staff to find out how many art lofts are currently vacant and how long the lofts have been vacant in order to determine if the changes are necessary.

"I think that this is a good start but I just don't know how many additional people this would actually generate for the downtown loft spaces," Claxton said.

Mayor Mary Foster said she believed some qualified people may be turned away by the vague description sometimes given.

"I think the landlords turn away a lot of people because they ask are you an artist, and I asked how are you explaining that to people who call or walk in off the street?," Foster said.  "And then they see that you have to be a certified artist, but you don't need to have an MFA or certification from Juliard or Berkeley. It's about being part of the creative economy and being able to present a portfolio of work."

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