WEST HARLEM — A West Harlem building that housed two dozen artist studios was cleared out on Halloween to make way for a commercial complex — closing one of the last affordable spaces for the neighborhood’s creative community.
The Chashama Residency, which opened eight years ago in a former brewery on W. 126th Street, provided low-cost workspace for scores of Harlem- and Bronx-based artists. Studio tenants, who knew going in they could be evicted with little notice, mounted a final exhibition in the building’s first-floor gallery before bidding the space goodbye.
"It's a sweet and sour feeling," said visual artist Aleathia Brown, 51, a Harlem native who had worked out 461 W. 126th St. since the space opened. “It’s like having to leave your family.”
Chashama, a nonprofit that supports artists, works with landlords around the city to use vacant spaces, usually on a month-to-month basis, on the condition the buildings are kept in good repair. The group passed along the savings to artists like Brown, who paid $261 a month for her 200-square-foot studio.
Brown and her fellow artists learned in late August that Janus Property, the building’s owner, was moving ahead with plans to make the structure part of a commercial development slated for the block.
Over the last 20 years, Chashama has supported more than 15,000 artists with affordable studios and galleries around the city, said the program's artistic director, Anita Durst. The Harlem building was one of its main spaces.
"I always felt very proud of that community. I've seen many artists go through there and have a large amount of growth," Durst said. "We knew we would have to leave eventually. We are leaving with much respect. We are sad, but that's how it is."
The gallery at the Harlem space hosted 180 exhibitions over the last eight years. The last one, which ended on Oct. 28, was billed as a "closing ceremony," although spirits weren't very festive.
"It’s not only about the studios, it’s the connection we built," said artist Christopher Trujillo, 46.
“We are all long-term residents in Harlem. We know that the neighborhood is hot now, and there are no cheap rents. Typically, this is what happens: artists go in, neighbors love it, and then artists have to go out.”
Trujillo, who is still looking for a new workspace, said that some of his fellow artists found studios in Brooklyn and the Bronx — but none yet in rapidly changing Harlem.
Brown, who moved her easel and paints to the bedroom of her Bronx apartment, said she’s concerned the move will impact the fabric of her output.
"My work is focused in Harlem,” Brown said. “I’ll try to keep a Harlem presence, although I’m not physically here anymore."