Nurturing a Whole Community
Over the last two months, photographer and writer David Gonzales has been fortunate to meet more than a dozen community members who will be living at Redmond Street Rentals. Following is a reflection on affordable housing through his lens.
Critical service providers: that’s a phrase common to affordable housing discussions. Most of us would agree that firefighters, policemen, and bus drivers should all live in their own communities, so they’re often given precedence on affordable housing wait lists. Indeed at the Housing Trust’s new east Jackson development, Redmond Street Rentals, residents include forest firefighters, town firefighters, jail administrators, police officers, and teachers.
But 'critical' shouldn't stop there! Yes, firefighters and policemen are important to a community’s well-being, but so are librarians, grocers, house painters, retail workers, and artists, whose absences we’d feel if they didn’t live here. Consider the library. With its large collections and numerous community events, Teton County Library is an extraordinary resource, but the library's most important resource is the staff, who struggle to stay in Jackson.
Says Laura Landberg, a RSR resident and Teton County librarian, “Working for the county, we don’t get paid enough to keep up with the market rental rate in this town. It definitely makes it challenging. I know people who’ve been offered positions at the library, who had to turn them down because if they took the job they couldn’t afford to live here. If I hadn’t been offered a place at Redmond Street Rentals, at this point I’ve lived at so many places, that if I got kicked out of my present home, I’d probably not stay in Jackson.”
The Housing Trust believes that artists are critical to our community, especially one renowned for scenery, wildness, and serenity, which ironically can be tough to find in Jackson these days. The paintings, sculptures, and music our local artists create from their own local inspirations remind us why it’s worth the sacrifice to remain in Jackson, and why it’s worth keeping Jackson a unique, vibrant, wild place.
Travis Walker, founder of the Teton Art Lab and a resident of RSR, is more blunt about it: “Life would suck without art. You need joy in your life. People don’t think about where that joy comes from. Artists exude joy when they’re creating. It’s like a singer, when she’s performing and she’s really passionate, their passion rubs off on you. Artists are the members of a community that create joy, and I think that’s a necessary thing.”
Walker and the Teton Art Lab are doing more than their fair share of the work to keep young and hungry artists in our community, by providing them inexpensive studios, residencies, arts education, and by nurturing a network of like-minded artists and art patrons. Providing Travis and his two young sons a place to live and create enhances our community in both visible and invisible ways. What could be more critical than that?