Artists Flee NYC: Less Funding But the Same High Rents

Monday, November 15, 2010 - 11:51 AM

Here's one of those depressing articles you've probably seen variations of over the years -- New York City is expensive; artists can't afford to live here -- and may be tempted to roll your eyes at. But this Crain's piece is worth reading because it speaks to the current economic climate:

...a survey of 1,000 artists conducted in 2009 by the New York Foundation for the Arts found that more than 43% expected their annual income to drop by 26% to 50% over the next six months, and 11% believed they would have to leave New York within six months. Even more troubling, cultural boosters say, is that for the first time, artists fresh out of art schools around the country are choosing to live in nascent artist communities in regional cities like Detroit and Cleveland—which are dangling incentives to attract this group—and bypassing New York altogether.

Remember how artists and art-lovers were sounding giddy, back in the early days of the recession, at the prospect that the city would revert to the 1970s -- not so much the grungy, falling-apart aspect as the free-form artistic carnival it (supposedly) was? Hardly.

Many had hoped the recession would bring down rents, making it easier for them to stay. Instead, rents have barely dropped, and the part-time jobs they depend on for survival have become harder to find. Without a strong arts community, New York risks losing its standing as a creative center, which could have a negative impact on numerous industries that depend on talented employees.

I'd really like to see a survey of artists who've left NYC -- was it worth it? One artist friend who still lives here but has spent much of the last few years outside, doing residencies, says he told a group of artists in Portland "they are not missing anything by living out there and not moving to NYC."

"You can live much more affordably elsewhere," he wrote, "and plan two or three strategic one or even two week trips per year to NYC with your savings."

As the Crain's article suggests, that fatigue is catching on.

“There was a romanticism about being an artist in New York that was handed down in stories, but no artist I know is living that kind of life here,” [painter Katya] Tepper says. “In other cities where space is affordable, artists are now living the kind of life we dreamed about in New York.”

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Comments [1]

Gwyneth Leech from New York City

Yes, the cost of living issues are real, but this is the sentence that lost me: "Though the nation's bulk of the art galleries are still here, artists and other creative workers say the feeling of community that used to exist in New York is gone, and with it the spark that fueled ideas".

Really? They must be living in a different city from mine. I can't go anywhere around New York City without falling over artists I consider part of my community. These are not just visual artists, but choreographers and dancers, writers, video artists, actors and musicians of many stripes. And none have plans to move. Yes, we complain and we do talk about real estate a lot, but the exchange of art ideas continues to be vigorous and fruitful and fueled by the unique character of the city. We just have to keep thinking broadly, creatively - and collaboratively to get the best out of this town.

Generosity is the key, and despite New York City's cut-throat reputation, the artists here are the most generous people I know.

Yes, times are tough and money is tight - but the abundance is real.

I have a fuller reply to the article on my blog, Gwyneth's Full Brew at
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Nov. 20 2010 12:46 PM

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