Two Artists Created the Airbnb for Renting Studio Space

  • Photo by Studio von Monkiewitsch/Alexander Schneider. Courtesy of stusu.

    Photo by Studio von Monkiewitsch/Alexander Schneider. Courtesy of stusu.

Say you’re a Brooklyn-based painter with a studio in Bushwick. The 300-square-foot space gets great natural light, which is key for your practice; it’s located just a few blocks from the subway; and the neighboring units are used by fellow artists, who don’t mind that you blast music at all hours of the night. It’s an ideal scenario. That is, until you start yearning for a change of scenery. What then?

A couple years ago, Berlin artist Ralf Dereich found himself in a similar situation. His studio in Neukölln was like a second home, but he had an itch to travel and create elsewhere. He wanted to sublet his own space and find another abroad, but quickly realized that that was easier said than done—there was no one website or app that seamlessly facilitated such sublets. He turned to a friend from art school, Melina Volkmann, and asked her: Why wasn’t there already a service like this, a sort of Airbnb for artists?

That conversation led to stusu—a portmanteau of ‘studio’ and ‘sublet,’ of course—which Dereich and Volkmann launched in early 2016, billing it as “the first global platform where artists can sublet their studios.” In collaboration with web developer Sebastian Kempf and graphic designer Tobias Tilgner, they built a website that culls together information on available studio spaces and ultimately makes it easier for artists to seek out inspiration abroad and create work in cities beyond their hometowns.

“Before stusu existed, most artist studio sublets had been advertised at ‘free listing pages,’” Volkmann explains, referring to websites like Craigslist, where pages for studio sublets are lumped together with various other types of sublets. “We wanted to improve this status, with the values of a community marketplace—values like trust and certainty.”

  • Portrait of Melina Volkmann and Ralf Dereich. Courtesy of stusu.

    Portrait of Melina Volkmann and Ralf Dereich. Courtesy of stusu.

An important earlier initiative in this space is the Listings Project, begun by Stephanie Diamond in 2003, which helps artists and other creatives find and list studios, homes, and workspaces in over 70 countries, through a weekly email newsletter.

Stusu, in contrast, is a “hybrid of classic listings page and member-community model,” Volkmann explains. The site is fostering a virtual community of artists who can connect in order to help one another find spaces that will support their artmaking practices—spaces that foster productivity and creativity.

Stusu can be used to expedite straightforward sublets—where one artist rents out another’s studio for a period of days, weeks, or months—but also to fill spots in shared workspaces, and even to arrange studio swaps among artists. At the moment, use of the site is free for all parties involved. The founders are currently planning a Kickstarter campaign (scheduled to launch September 1) to keep the site running and to raise funding needed to build out the functionality for a commission-based model.

Those looking to find a temporary studio space can log onto stusu, enter their desired city and dates, and then scroll through listings and an interactive map—an interface that will be familiar to Airbnb users. But, rather than number of bedrooms, on stusu users can filter searches by price per day, shared or private spaces, and square footage.

To list a studio on stusu, lessors create a profile and a listing, add images and a description of their space, and set their own prices and the minimum rental period. The site’s admins (Dereich and Volkmann) vet listings for quality and clarity, ensuring these spaces are in fact suitable for artmaking. There are currently some 340 studios listed on the site, from Brooklyn to Bangkok, representing a vast range of affordability and amenities.

  • Photo by Steffen Jagenburg. Courtesy of stusu.

    Photo by Steffen Jagenburg. Courtesy of stusu.

Volkmann notes that stusu is conscious of the individual needs of artists, and thus aims to represent a variety of flexible spaces, rather than being limited to the classic, traditional concept of an artist studio—four walls, high ceilings, large windows.

The site also covers a wide geographic span, especially considering the modest number of studios on the site. While the founders have put a concerted effort into developing a presence in New York and Berlin (each city has over 100 studios listed), a plethora of cities are represented on the site, from Chicago to Cape Town, São Paulo to Singapore.

In New York at present, for example, one can find anything from a 75-square-foot shared space in Industry City for $308 per month, to a private, 475-square-foot photography studio in the West Village for $530 per day. In Berlin, options range from a desk in a Neukölln shared studio for under $5 per day for 90 days, to a sprawling, sun-drenched, 1,450-square-foot studio in Friedrichshain that can be used for filming, photo shoots, workshops, or castings, for around $470 per day.

Meanwhile, in Cape Town, an artist can rent out a 323-square-foot space on the premises of a business for approximately $303 per month. For those heading to São Paulo, there’s a 130-square-foot studio on the 22nd floor of Oscar Niemeyer’s famed Copan building for $35 per day. In Singapore, there’s an artist homestay available, including a 430-square-foot space for $71 per day. And for someone in search of spiritual inspiration in nature, in a Polish village some 30 meters from Krakow, there’s a 409-square-foot yurt (a circular Mongolian tent) going for €25 per day.

Volkmann emphasizes the artist-first, communal nature of the site, which she and Dereich have developed through first-hand experience. “Most of our feedback comes from artists, who immediately see the purpose and value of our website,” she says. “Stusu is an initiative from artists, for artists.”


—Casey Lesser