Keeping Artists in New York City

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New York City risks driving artists out with rising rents and unaffordable studio space.

When he was in his freshman year of college almost four decades ago, Darren Walker saw the Dance Theater of Harlem perform in Austin, Texas.

"It was a transformational experience," said Walker, who is now president of the Ford Foundation, one of the nation's largest grant making organizations.

After graduating, Walker moved to New York City a few years later in part, he said, because of the arts and his exposure to them growing up.

Now, as head of the foundation since 2013, he's directing its $12.4 billion endowment to focus on inequality. And part of that effort includes examining how art and artists can address the problem, including issues of affordability and access in cities like New York.

For Walker, keeping a thriving arts scene matters.

"In a time of growing inequality, artists play a role in holding a mirror up to society," Walker said.

But New York has grown increasingly inhospitable towards artists, especially those starting their careers, and Walker said New Yorkers can't rest on the fact that their city has historically attracted new talent. 

"We do that at our own peril," he said. "And we will wake [one] day and find this city devoid of life, devoid of the cultural blood that our ecosystem, our body, the body of this city depends on."

This week on Money Talking, Walker joins host Charlie Herman  to discuss the increasing financial challenges New York artists face, and the risk of losing people vital to city's cultural fabric.

As part of the series “Making it in NYC,” WNYC is taking a closer look at the issue of affordability through the lens of art and culture. We're exploring how artists create their work while trying to earn a decent living. It's also about how New Yorkers can afford to participate in one of the city's most valuable assets.

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