It’s a familiar complaint: New York, for decades a beacon for creative types, is becoming too expensive for those aforementioned creative types, thus stripping away much of the city’s color, its soul. In Manhattan, forget about it — few people outside of those who work in finance or law can afford rents there without having to live with roommates. A couple of decades ago an aspiring artist like Jean-Michel Basquiat and his college student girlfriend could afford their own apartment in the heart of East Village. Now? HAHAHAHA. Forget about it. And the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that many artistic types fled to once Manhattan rents starting going through the roof are also becoming too expensive.
How bad is it? So bad that Paddy Johnson, an influential NYC-based art writer who runs Art Fag City, is now openly advising young artists to not move to the city. It’s just not worth it, she says, especially when the internet provides a forum to showcase art to marketplaces far from an artist’s geographical location.
I’m sad that New York, the city I’ve lived in for more than 10 years, is now barely hospitable to those making the kind of art I love. It’s my job, though I don’t like it, to tell young artists thinking of moving that without connections, their job prospects are dim. The ugly reality is the cost of living is prohibitively expensive in New York.
Typical studio rent in Bushwick runs at $600 for 250 square feet, according to Stephanie Diamond’s Listings Project, a real-estate email service for artists. That’s more than $2 per square foot. Sunset Park is more affordable, but as I reported in the last issue, landlords are raising rents there by as much as 50 percent.
Spending a few months in New York to build connections and get studio visits isn’t a bad idea, but it’s possible to keep up with most art virtually, and art here has becoming increasingly lifeless anyway. The Lower East Side has become particularly stale lately; in the past four months, I’ve seen only two solo exhibitions that I thought were exceptional—Sara Ludy at Klaus Von Nichtssagend and Jaimie Warren at The Hole. Neither of those artists lives in New York.
Five years ago I, then a struggling writer myself, voiced a similar lament on my now-defunct personal blog, proposing an NYC alternative in the process.
I’ve been thinking a bunch of late about how much New York has changed just in the few years that I’ve been here. I think about how many of the artists, the creative types, the people who historically have given New York its color and flair, are being priced further and further out. I wonder when the tipping point will be reached. When will it become no longer feasible for wannabe artists, writers, musicians, to come to New York to chase all of their crazy dreams, to let their art flourish in an environment that welcomes and appreciates it? I wonder what place they will turn to as an alternative when the welcome mat is finally pulled from New York’s front door.
Interestingly enough, New Orleans does indeed feel like the new New York. Yes, I’m biased, obviously, but don’t take my word for it — just ask anyone who’s visited recently.
(Banksy NYC mural via)