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Faces of The Fund: Rebecca Sauer

September 13, 2012

Rebecca Sauer is one of the newest members of The Actors Fund Family. She brings years of experience in community development and housing policy to her role as Project Analyst for the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC). Here she shares the low-down on the importance of affordable housing for the entertainment community, AFHDC’s current survey of NYC/NJ area arts community, and the exploration of new housing in Rahway, NJ, Downtown Los Angeles and more.

Actors Fund: What do you think are the most exciting things about AFHDC’s new projects in Rahway, NJ, and Downtown Los Angeles?  Rebecca: Rahway is such an incredible example of how a small city can use the arts as a revitalization strategy. When I first visited, I thought “OK, sleepy little town,” but that very same day, after meeting with some of the key officials and people involved in programming at local arts organizations, I was walking back to the train and I saw Rahway with new eyes. There is so much energy there and potential for interesting collaborations. I can’t wait to see how the tenants of the Rahway Residence for the Arts participate in local activities and work with the new Hamilton Stage, the Union County Performing Arts Center, the Rahway Arts District, and the Arts Guild of New Jersey. The city is really supporting the belief that the arts can bring about positive community change. So far they’ve proven it by bringing in new residents, attracting directors to shoot their films there, and maximizing tax revenues, not to mention the increased opportunities to expose young people to the arts.

Similarly, in downtown LA, our project is part of a broader public initiative to support the arts and use it as a community and economic development strategy. There, we are working around the Broadway corridor, which is the home of historic theatres that began to decline in the 1930s. We are still in the process of selecting a site, but one of the most exciting things to me will be to see how the character of this district will be preserved in an innovative way and how old spaces will be repurposed to suit new industries and community needs. While we will contribute by developing affordable artist housing there, the plans also include space to incubate creative businesses, expansion of the CalArts campus, and flexible space for non-profit arts organizations.

AF: Why is affordable artist housing an important part of building a better community?  Rebecca: In general, affordable housing that is developed through government programs like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and/or by mission-driven organizations, is safer, more secure, and provides a better quality of life for residents. When people spend more than 30–40% of their income on housing (widely accepted as a reasonable rent burden and guaranteed in subsidized affordable housing), they have a smaller share of their income available for groceries, healthcare, education and saving for their futures. When people aren’t constantly scrambling to move and find a decent deal, they can focus on finding stable work or doing better at the jobs they already have. It is incredibly important that artists have the energy and resources to excel. The arts and creative disciplines are what set one community apart from another; they drive tourism and the further development of other niche industries. Exposure to the arts is associated with better educational outcomes for youth. All of these things are important for building healthy and strong communities.

AF: What’s your favorite part about seeing these projects come together?  Rebecca: Hearing residents speak about how affordable housing has changed their lives!

AF: You’ve spent some time working and studying in Buenos Aires with Habitat for Humanity. What’s your favorite thing about that culturally vibrant city?  Rebecca: It’s too hard to pick one favorite thing, but I love the café culture. It’s so great to sit out for hours, have some café con leche, and people-watch. I was also lucky to have a very unique experience when I lived there. By chance, I ended up living with the family of the late Alberto Castillo, an iconic Argentine tango singer. While tango has become the clichéd thing identified with the city, it really does pervade it and inform people’s collective memory. I was able to walk around the house I lived in and examine mementos and pictures that really captured a time and a culture. It was kind of like The Actors Fund office in that way.

AF: Now that summer’s wrapped up, are there any films, shows or albums you’re looking forward to checking out this fall?  Rebecca: Shout out to one of my former classmates and friend from college, Alison Klayman. She directed a documentary about the controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei called Never Sorry. It came out this summer, but I still haven’t made it to the theatre. It has gotten rave reviews from friends as well as impartial critics; hopefully I’ll catch it before it leaves the IFC Center!

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