The Artist-Friendly Manager of Inscape Resigns in Protest Over Owners' Treatment of Artists
by Jen Graves
on Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 6:22 AM
SAM FARRAZAINO The man who had the plan. The man who has resigned.
On December 5, we reported that the relationship had begun to sour between artists and building owners at Inscape—the beautiful, haunted erstwhile INS building on Airport Way, where for decades some immigrants were awarded citizenship and some were humiliated in ways large and small and some were imprisoned with a view of sports stadiums before getting deported. A novel's worth of pictures, and a full story about the building, are here. For four years, the outdated 1930s villa-style facility was abandoned before a group of investors bought it intending to turn it into high-rent office space. But then 2008 happened. Under the direction of a new frontman, Sam Farrazaino, a landlord for other artists' spaces around the city who's also a sculptor himself, the building was reinvented as Inscape—a poetic term coined by a Victorian to describe the inner landscape of language. It opened in 2010.
Six days ago, on December 21, Farrazaino sent the tenants of Inscape a letter. It said he was leaving as of December 31. From the letter:
When I first created Inscape, crystalized the vision, and defined its mission, my idealism and desire to see this building live up to its amazing potential, caused me to ignore the challenges that are now insurmountable.
My work over the last two and a half years was to be the bridge between Inscape and INS Holdings, LLC, in order to create the artistic community of Inscape in accordance with what I believed was a shared vision by all of us owners and tenants. I no longer believe that INS Holdings, LLC shares that vision, and the ownership’s policies and practices have obliterated my ability to make those connections and create lasting bonds. ...
I will not continue on this path.
The letter ends shortly after that, and does not go into specifics about which policies and practices Farrazaino is referring to. But several artists earlier this month described the feeling that the owners were trying to squeeze more money out of the building by changing parking rules and fees, and allowing tailgaters into the parking lot on game days. The owners denied that they'd changed the rules since leases were signed, and a negotiation was scheduled. By the looks of Farrazaino's resignation, the negotiation may not have yielded much in the way of renewed goodwill—or for the prospect of renewed leases. At least two artists emailed me since Farrazaino sent out his letter to say they may not re-up.
Perhaps this is a clash of personalities, and a new crop of artists at Inscape will bring a pax romana to the baby country. But there's a core structural problem in that the rents, which in 2010 were at $1 to $1.50 per square foot per month, are already relatively high for studio spaces. Like Equinox Studios in Georgetown, also managed by Farrazaino, Inscape relies on details like parking, relationships, and the fuzzier feeling of faith in the owners—in this case inspired by Farrazaino. In the letter, he also wrote, "I will continue to believe that it is possible for Inscape to overcome this current mess, live up to its potential and fulfill its mission."
I'm writing this post from an airport on my way out of the country, so I didn't have time to ask Farrazaino, the owners, and the tenants who emailed me the letter (I just saw the email last night, after the holiday) what they think the resignation will mean. If you have perspective, please add it to the comments below or email it to the editors of The Stranger. Because of crazy holiday schedules, we've already put next week's paper to bed but I'll get back to reporting January 3.
Meanwhile, some tenants are talking about planning an appreciation for Farrazaino. If it becomes public, I'll let you know.
WHAT CAME BEFORE Looking out a window on the prison floor.