Artists & Bohemian Lifestyles

This morning I read this article from OPB on Milepost 5, an low income artists community that I lived a block away from when I first moved to Portland, which happened to be a year after Milepost 5 opened. The article addresses the decline of the space over the past 15 years, particularly after the space was sold to an investment company in California. Ain’t that always the case.

I have a bit of history with Milepost 5, particularly in that I have visited their communal art space, the Art Haus, and even auditioned for a performance of Romeo & Juliet by a Milepost 5 theatre company, that was to take place in the interior courtyard. This was back in 2011. I was cast as a “musician,” which meant not as an actual character in the play. That, coupled with the general sort of vibe I got from the audition process, was enough for me to pass. It wasn’t bad, it was just … bohemian. The whole space felt bohemian. It felt like I was audition for R&J within the context of being in a production of RENT. Again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just not my thing. I often find that these pseudo-DIY, bohemian plays come with erratic and often poorly organized rehearsal schedules and, sometimes, very self-important directors. (To be fair, most directors are self-important.)

Milepost 5 was meant to be a place where low income artists could have a home, but for some reason, that also means that the space itself has to be kind of a shithole. I’m not sure why this is. I don’t understand why so many artists feel the need to be dirty bohemians. I get it, in part–the rejection of capitalism, the communal lifestyle, but why do these things require artists to live in hovels?

I know, I know, I’m turning into Don Draper here. It just always seems like there are two artistic camps: bohemians and yuppies. It’s all class war stuff, of course; we’re all under the thumb of capitalism. But when the government says, “Hey, we’re going to provide you with low income housing so you can do fun art stuff,” why does that housing have to be shitty? What if you want to do art but don’t want to share a kitchen, or a bathroom? Why are artists either packed into apartments like sardines, or living in the Upper East Side?

The answer is: it’s not a dichotomy. It never is. There are obviously middle class artists all over the place. There are people who live in suburbs and act in community theater, and there are people who attend those “drink wine and paint sunsets” classes. But it seems, to me at least, that the cultural concept of artists is one of bohemian hovels. Brick walls, a giant canvas with paint splattered all over it, either hung up or lying on the ground. A woman doing performance art where she drips her menstrual blood on a canvas. None of that is bad! Art is art. I’m just curious why art is often culturally considered poor.

It sucks that Milepost 5 was lauded as an artistic community and then sold to capitalists who have since run it into the ground. It’s obvious that capitalism hates art, unless it makes money, and low income artist hovels will never make money. So they abandon it like a carnivorous amoeba searching for a new meal to suck the life out of. So, bohemia is a response to that. I get it. I just wish the government got it, and invested more into it, I suppose.