A couple of years ago when I was writing about real estate and downtown condos I got really intrigued by a bunch of conversations happening among artists about making affordable housing and studio spaces. I interviewed one of the leaders of that effort, local artist Cheryl Nickel.

A lot of these artists had had their studios in downtown but the condo boom drove them out. There’s a trend that artists and creative people move into a neighborhood, make it cool and hip, and then developers come in and build, driving prices up and the artists out. The same thing gets repeated over and over.

Now, less than two years later, Nickel and her husband, Bob Leathers, have founded SD Space 4 Art, a converted East Village warehouse with studios and apartments, which fills a longtime gap in San Diego.

The spot is a who’s who of local artists. Some are building with wood, some making music, some sound engineering. I visited the warehouse yesterday with our friends at NBC 7/39 for this week’s Behind the Scene TV. Watch NBC today at 4:30 or check back soon for the clip posted here.

Nickel and Leathers spoke at the Art in the City conference I attended in September.

The artists I know are notorious for not having a lot of money but for having a lot of weird skills. To build this space, they pulled together hundreds of volunteer hours. One artist’s dad is a plumber and donated his time. Leathers orchestrated the whole volunteer effort.

Now the converted warehouse is a maze of 35 work studios and even a few spots where artists can live and work. Rents range from about $200 to about $850 for different sized studios.

The group has the warehouse on a five-year lease, but the elephant-sized shadow in East Village is the potential that the neighborhood could soon house a new stadium for the Chargers. Nickel vehemently opposes the creation of more sports bars and parking lots in the neighborhood.

“We don’t want it to be more of the Gaslamp,” she said.

I’m the arts editor for voiceofsandiego.org. Drop me a line directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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