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  1. #1

    Default Artists Canvassing for Space

    October 13, 2002

    Artists Canvassing for Space


    The Clock Tower Building at 112 Lincoln Avenue in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx is the onetime Estey piano factory, which had been vacant for more than 10 years. The building is now being developed for live-work artists' residences; 160 apartments are planned.

    WHEN David Graham, a 38-year-old painter, gave up a studio carved out of an old diner in Williamsburg in 1997, 6 years into a 10-year lease to spend a year in Montreal, he figured he would have little difficulty duplicating it when he returned a year later.

    "There was still a lot of space available, so I didn't think it would be a big deal," he recalled ruefully the other day. "But that was the year everything began to boom. When I got back, the place for which I was paying $600 a month was going for more than $2,000."

    So began a search of the sort that many artists undergo at one time or another in their careers. "I looked in Red Hook, in Long Island City, in Greenpoint, in all the areas that were being touted as up and coming," he said, "but I didn't find the space or rents comparable to what I was accustomed to."

    Almost by accident, he stumbled upon the South Bronx. "I had driven by the area between the Willis Avenue and Third Avenue Bridges and noticed a cluster of warehouses on the river," he said. "There had been an art scene there at one time, and there was a bit of romance to the idea of the Bronx, as well as a bit of apprehension."

    Mr. Graham has been cheerfully ensconced in the Bronx for three years, first in the American Bank Note Building in Hunts Point and now over a garage in Mott Haven.

    Though it does not conjure up images of Montmartre, increasingly the South Bronx, once a symbol of urban blight, is a haven for painters, sculptors and other visual artists who find themselves shut out of SoHo, TriBeCa, Williamsburg and other entrenched art colonies by sharply rising prices and a dwindling inventory of space.

    They are also venturing into other neighborhoods in and around the city: Harlem, the Rockaways, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Peekskill, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Jersey City and Bridgeport. "In the last five or seven years, there has certainly been a diaspora of Manhattan artists established around the metropolitan area and in other parts of the state like Columbia and Ulster Counties," said Theodore Berger, executive director of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

    In his view, the absorption of technology into art has made it possible to live and work at some distance from galleries and curators. "While there certainly is an advantage in being in New York City, you can e-mail and send in your slides," he said. "But I believe that the city is losing a creative talent pool that way."

    Two years ago, a Minneapolis-based organization called Artspace Projects, which develops and manages residential and professional space for individual artists and groups, investigated the possibility of acquiring sites in Bridgeport, Conn. and Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

    "What was surprising was the volume of response we got from artists in New York City," said Tom Nordyke, vice president of property development for the organization. "Fifty percent of them were from New York City ZIP codes. That indicates how far they are willing to go for affordable space."

    The Poughkeepsie project was never pursued, but the one in Bridgeport, which will create 52 units of live-work space in a vacant department store, is being developed with state, corporate and philanthropic funds. Rents will range from $261 to $820 a month.

    That is in sharp contrast to what Andrew Heiberger, president of the brokerage firm Citi Habitats, terms "neighborhoods of choice: Chelsea, the Flatiron district, TriBeCa and SoHo." Citing annual rental rates, he said: "Lofts that were renting there at $12 to $15 a square foot in 1995 have skyrocketed to $40 to $50 per square foot, making it impossible for many artists to remain. And those artists who have stabilized leases can get huge buyouts from owners."

    Although zoning in various areas of the city has been changed to permit the conversion of manufacturing sites, spacious studios with natural light remain in short supply.

    Some lofts, primarily in SoHo, are regulated by the Loft Law, shorthand for Article 7C of the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law, enacted by the State Legislature in 1982. It granted owners the right to convert factories and warehouses into legal live-work premises so long as they brought the properties into compliance with fire and safety codes. Once they had done so, buildings entered the rent stabilization system.

    "Originally, we had 910 buildings," said Leslie Torres, acting executive director of the New York City Loft Board, which is responsible for carrying out the law. "Now we have about 560."

    Finding something affordable however that may be defined is critical, especially for young people with unpredictable incomes. But in addition to cheap rent, artists also require generous space to accommodate large sculptures, canvases or installations and ample natural light. Some also want to settle where they can find kindred spirits.

    "I like it here because people have to stick together," said Shannon Lange, a painter who moved from the Black Mountains of North Carolina to a fourth-floor walk-up in Mott Haven last month. "As soon as I moved in, people offered help, and within a few days I had already met sculptors and painters. An antiques dealer brought out a crystal bowl for my dog."

    Though there is widespread agreement that artists' space is hard to come by, there is no comprehensive data on the inventory of studios or lofts around the city. In part, that is because numerous artists are illegally camped in manufacturing sites that have not been rezoned for residential use and that do not have the legal protection of the state's Loft Law. Tenants rent space ostensibly to use only for work, and then landlords look the other way when they install rudimentary kitchens and bathrooms.

    As Tom Finkelpearl, director of the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, put it, "I have never been to a loft where someone wasn't living and working in the same space illegally."

    Seemingly overnight, an area can be catapulted from seedy to sizzling. Dumbo, the waterfront edge of Brooklyn more formally called Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, for example, has long had artists working quietly in its aging factories and warehouses. But with the proliferation of sophisticated restaurants, galleries and gourmet shops, as well as the conversion of several of its buildings to well-equipped co-ops and some new construction, Dumbo has gained an upscale image and wide appeal.

    Jane Walentas, a painter who is restoring a carousel there, decided she wanted to visit every artist's studio in Dumbo's 15 square blocks during the summer of 2001. "I thought I could run through them all, so I got a list and either called everyone or knocked on doors," she said. "I spent a few weeks at it but didn't even make a dent."

    Her husband, David C. Walentas, the largest landowner and developer in Dumbo and a prime mover in its rehabilitation, owns almost 3 million square feet of space there, some of which he has reserved for artists.

    "We took 100,000 square feet of space at 20 Jay Street and cut it up into 50 studios measuring 1,000 to 3,000 square feet, and we are now negotiating to convert an Empire Stores warehouse on the waterfront into studios," he said. "We want to maintain artists in the neighborhood. They bring energy and style."

    His studios rent for an average of $10 to $15 a square foot a year, about $1,000 a month for 1,000 square feet. Conceding that rents will inevitably rise and gentrification will continue, he asked: "Is that a shame? Yes and no. The world is organic, and things keep evolving."

    Elliott Arkin, a sculptor whose credits include a work in the Louvre and Christmas windows at Tiffany's, discovered Dumbo in 1988. "For many years, I was the only artist in my building, which is 11 stories," he said. "The influx probably started five years ago, and the whole area has taken off in the last three."

    Indeed, it has taken off so much, he added, that he will probably have to leave. "My original lease was $6 a square foot or about $1,000 a month," he said. "Now it is coming up again and will probably go to $15 a square foot. I am thinking about moving, perhaps to the Gowanus area or Red Hook. I am also trying to think about buying a little piece of land and plopping something prefabricated on it. I joke that I will buy a container and cut a hole in it."

    If anyone exemplifies tenacity, it is Peter Garfield, a multimedia artist. He searched on and off over 13 years for a house in Williamsburg where he could live and work.

    "I always thought, `In a few years I will have saved enough money to do that,' but the amount of money needed was always more than I had," he said. "I was always behind the market. I finally decided this year that it was time to beg and borrow because the rent on both my apartment and studio were going up, and everything was going crazy in Williamsburg. I figured this was my last chance."

    In May, he bought a two-family frame house there, three-quarters of which he will rent out. He would not say what he paid, but in retrospect, he said, he considers the price was too high. "I realized too late that it needs a lot of work that I will do myself," he said.

    As he starts work on rehabilitating his house, he has literally pitched a tent in a carriage barn at the rear of his new home that will ultimately become his studio.

    Though artists tend to stem the tide of deterioration when they move into neighborhoods, their presence can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they infuse new vitality into neglected communities, attracting restaurateurs, gallery owners, club proprietors and developers. Invariably, improvements then push rents beyond the reach of the very people who sowed the seeds of change.

    IN many ways, Long Island City is a case in point. Left with blocks of abandoned lofts when heavy industry moved out in the 1970's and 80's, landlords welcomed artists rather than let properties sit vacant. But as the area's appeal increased, now magnified by the temporary move there of the Museum of Modern Art, prices in Long Island City rose. Then last year, the City Planning Department rezoned a 37-block parcel to permit the replacement of low-rise factories with office towers.

    "Even owners in buildings not in the new zone area raised their rents because they knew they, too, would benefit," said Marjorie Seaman, president of Seaman Realty and Management, a commercial firm there. "Now Long Island City is too expensive for the average artist. It tends to attract those who have made their money and can afford separate residences elsewhere so they are renting simply for a place to work.

    "The real problem is that there are huge blocks of industrial space, but no small studios," she said. "Most landlords don't want to cut their space into 1,000 square feet."

    A typical studio, 2,500 square feet, goes for about $12 a square foot per year, or $2,500 a month. "Most artists can't pay that so they form a partnership or they divide the space and sublet part of it," she went on.

    Joel Shapiro, a sculptor whose works have been exhibited in major museums around the country, and his wife, Ellen Phelan, a painter, bought a 25,000-square-foot former power plant in Long Island City that they are renovating as a workplace. More than 17,000 square feet of its three floors (it will also have a penthouse) will be given over to studio space. The rest will be used for archives, storage and administration.

    Finally, Mr. Shapiro will have the room to view his massive works in their entirety. "I was tired of doing everything half scale," he said. But besides that, he said, he likes the ambience of the mixed-use neighborhood. "I like the idea that two blocks away there is a guy from whom you can rent a crane. It is part of art seeing yourself in a broader social matrix, rather than being shoved between retail outlets. This feels more the way things felt 25 years ago in lower Manhattan."

    Morgan Meis, president of a not-for-profit arts collective called Flux Factory, which includes 13 members who live communally, found a 7,500-square-foot loft in Long Island City seven months ago for which they pay $6,800.

    "You have to find a place where there is not so much demand, but you don't want to be so marginalized that you are completely out of touch with the more established art world," he said. "You want people to come see your work, and you want to be connected to a community, so you don't want to jump three neighborhoods out to a community that may never get developed or will do so so far down that line that it becomes irrelevant to your work."

    One of the more remote locales to which artists are moving is the Rockaway Peninsula on the southern edge of Queens.

    There the Rockaway Artists Alliance has entered a partnership with the Gateway National Recreation Area, a national park that includes Fort Tilden, a World War I Army coast artillery base where nuclear-tipped antiaircraft missiles stood during the Cold War.

    "We have grants to renovate two former military buildings and turn them into studios," said Geoff Rawling, president of the alliance, a 140-member organization that provides services for artists and programs for schoolchildren. The National Park Service "lets us use them rent free but we have to do the renovations." He added: "We have spent close to $400,000 over a period of four or five years. No one has permanent space here, but when someone is doing a project, they can have a studio."

    Mr. Rawling discovered the Rockaways 12 years ago when he was asked to decorate a bar there. "I had been on the Lower East Side, and it gentrified overnight," he said. "A lot of artists there jumped to Williamsburg, but I didn't want to go somewhere that was an extension of downtown."

    At first he encountered only one or two other artists, "but there was a gradual influx, with more and more people leaving the city," he said. "As soon as artists come out here, they get sand in their shoes and stay. A lot of people get space in private houses, and you can still find a one-bedroom apartment for $400 or $500."

    How long will that last? "The house I live in was expected to go on the market for $175,000 two years ago, and it sold for $425,000," Mr. Rawling said.

    Because of its distance from Midtown about 50 minutes by subway and the small scale of its buildings, it seems unlikely that the Rockaways will ever resemble SoHo. Neither will some other emerging communities.

    Describing the South Bronx as "the last frontier," Mr. Graham predicted that the artist's colony would remain contained in a small area there. Unlike Williamsburg, the Mott Haven section, where artists are currently concentrated, is tucked within a series of housing projects and the Harlem River. "We have natural boundaries," he said, delineating them: the Willis Avenue Bridge on the east, the Third Avenue Bridge on the west, the Major Deegan Expressway on the north and the Harlem River to the south.

    "Williamsburg is a test case of what can happen," he said. "It didn't have row upon row of housing projects, so there was nothing to stop it from spreading. Here people have found little nooks and crannies."

    Though he does not expect investment bankers and stockbrokers to flock to the South Bronx, he does foresee that the Clock Tower Building at 112 Lincoln Avenue, now undergoing rehabilitation, will become the epicenter of the art world there.

    A former piano factory, the 200,000-square-foot, five-story brick structure sat vacant for 10 years until it was donated to Touro College, which had intended to convert it to a dormitory. Those plans fell through and the Carnegie Management Corporation, a Brooklyn developer, acquired it for $4.75 million two years ago. It is now completing the first 18 of what will be 160 live-work artists' residences for which a variance was granted by the City Council. Rents for the units, which will average 1,000 square feet, will be $900 to $1,200 a month.

    "We had converted half a dozen buildings in Williamsburg for artists, and once we canvassed the area, saw that it was a new frontier for artists and very close to Manhattan, we decided it was a worthwhile investment," said Berl Jacobs, a partner in Carnegie Management. "I think they add value to whatever building or neighborhood they come to."

    In a few areas, cultural institutions, not-for-profit organizations and government officials are coming to the same realization and are taking steps to augment the stock of lofts, though it is not an easy process.

    In Jersey City, for example, a plan called Waldo (for "artists' Work and Live District Overlay"), which was approved by the City Council in 1996, has stalled for a variety of reasons. The Urban Land Institute, a real estate and urban planning research organization based in Washington, was brought in earlier this year to make recommendations on its implementation, and it proposed changing the name to Powerhouse Arts District and loosening zoning restrictions.

    Progress seems more imminent in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, where studio space is incorporated into the master plan for a cultural district to ring the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The city is to contribute $80 million of the projected $600 million budget.

    "There is no question that there is a need for studios," said Jeanne Lutfy, president of the BAM Local Development Corporation. "It won't be like SoHo, where artists were the pioneers and then had to move out. What we are trying to do is create affordable space for artists and organizations and give them stability."

    IN a more suburban setting Peekskill, N.Y., which has a Downtown Artists District the first 28 live-work studios in a project called Art Tech Lofts on Central Avenue and South Street were completed in June. Built with county, state and federal funds along with private financing, it cost $3.7 million. Though co-op artists' studios were introduced in New York City in the 19th century, John G. Testa, the mayor of Peekskill, believes the Art Tech project is the first co-op artists' building to be constructed in the state in a century.

    Units are priced at $89,500 to $139,500. Buyers cannot have incomes greater than 95 percent of the Westchester County median income, which is $57,000 for an individual and $81,541 for a family of four. They include digital, video and computer artists as well as those working with more traditional materials.

    In fact, the growing marriage of technology and art may ultimately answer the question of space for artists.

    "We need to think about what kind of art artists are making and what kind of real estate they need," Mr. Finkelpearl, the director of the Queens Museum, said. "I have a bunch of friends who are editing photographs, doing video installations and digital images, and they don't need a 2,000-square-foot loft. All they need is a really fast computer and you can put that anywhere." *

    Copyright The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    AM New York
    Pricey city drives out artists

    By David Freedlander |
    January 4, 2008

    Last year Galapagos Art Space, a leading venue in the city for emerging theater and art, had its bags packed and ready to go.

    Rents got to be too much. Young artists that lived near the space in Williamsburg had scattered. And city officials in Berlin were trying to lure the group there.

    "We were walking out the door and our jacket got caught on the latch," joked Robert Elmes, who opened the space in 1995.

    At the last moment, they were offered a subsidized place in DUMBO, but some see the saga of Galapagos as a cautionary tale about how emerging artists are being squeezed out of the city.

    "The cultural ecosystem is under incredible threat right now," Elmes said. "The word spreading back across the country to young, creative people is that New York is incredibly expensive and there isn't the opportunity to experiment with new work. The best and the brightest are going to other cities."

    It's a common refrain among those who work in the creative industries and follow the cultural scene closely: New York City, which has incubated a century of the world's leading artists, musicians, and performers, will cease to be a place where art is made.

    "New York could easily become a museum city like Paris or Rome that doesn't produce much in the way of relevant culture," Elmes said. "If you take emerging and cutting-edge arts away, the city becomes dramatically less interesting. That was always what New York was about but we are not protecting our brand."

    But New York's cultural primacy isn't simply a matter of self-image. Arts and culture account for a huge part of the city's economy -- nearly $21 billion and as many as 160,000 jobs, according to a recent report by the Alliance for the Arts, an advocacy group.

    Kate Levin, the commissioner of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, says the city is aware of the problem.

    "There was a time during the 'culture wars' that artists were seen as nasty and negative and, we've tried to change the discourse to make the case that artists are integral to a healthy city."

    The Bloomberg administration has revised regulations to make it easier for smaller, nonprofit arts organizations to receive funding, but Levin added that city's ability to intervene is limited. "Everybody has an issue with affordable housing, and government can't legally build housing just for artists in the city of New York," Levin said.

    Another concern is that the transformation of neighborhoods where artists congregate, like the East Village or Williamsburg, has dispersed a community that relies on proximity and relationships.

    And many artists say that economic pressures in the city are so intense that they have to spend all their time trying to make ends meet rather than devote themselves to their passion.

    "Historically. artists go into blighted neighborhoods and that's where they live and set up shop," said Elizabeth Currid, author of "The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City." "Those spaces don't exist anymore. We won't have a new generation if the next generation of artists can't afford to live here."

    Adam Forest Huttler, executive director of Fractured Atlas, an artist-support organization, agrees.

    "Artists are crafty and resourceful, there are probably one or two more neighborhoods left, but not much more than that," he said. "I just don't see a lot of young, creative people settling out by JFK Airport. I think we are at the red alert level."

    Artsy industry

    Economic contribution: $21.2 billion

    Jobs generated: 160,300

    Wages generated: $8.2 billion

    Taxes to New York City: $904 million

    Source: Alliance for Arts, 2007 report

    More articles

    Copyright 2008, AM New York

  3. #3


    More BS. NYC has always been more expensive than other cities, and there are still tons of cheap neighborhoods in the city.

    Artists don't need to live on Mercer Street, or even Bedford Avenue for that matter.

  4. #4
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    East Midtown


    You're the ass that is full of BS. The article is right on, you're just a blind man, evident from so many of your clueless posts. New York needs artists and creative folks way more than it needs crotchety sourpusses like you.
    Why does New York need YOU?

  5. #5
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Let them eat paint!

  6. #6


    "NYC has always been more expensive than other cities, and there are still tons of cheap neighborhoods in the city."


    But the point is NYC was always a city where one COULD live cheaply. Artists could live cheaply and in close proximity to one another.


    Not understanding the economic contribution the arts give to NYC means simply not understanding the city.

    From the NYTimes:

    From the Economist:

  7. #7


    Um, Midtown Guy, I never claimed that NYC needs me. What does that innane comment have to do with the thread topic?

    As for my post, where did I claim that NYC doesn't need artists or that artists should not be welcome?

    The issue is whether or not artists (and not other workers) NEED to have taxpayer subsidized space in the most expensive neighborhoods in NYC. IMO, the answer is a clear NO. There are many, many inexpensive neighborhoods throughout the city and metro. What's wrong with artists in East NY, Glendale, the Rockaways, Newark, Yonkers, etc. Nothing, of course. If you still think they should be subsidized at the expense of other workers, why would you choose the most expensive neighborhoods for public subsidies?

    Artists do not leave an entire metro because of prices, they leave individual neighborhoods because of prices. The current trends and the hysteria exhibited by yourself and the article have always been present as long as there have been artists in NYC.

    In the 1950's high prices led artists from more genteel precients to Greenwich Village. Then in the 60's and 70's it was the East Village. Then came Williamsburg in the 80's and 90's. Now it's Bushwick and Jersey City. Ten years from now it will be the South Bronx and East NY. It's always been this way.

    IMO, artists are attracted to areas because of the creative environment, not because of low prices. Otherwise, why do cheap rustbelt places have little creative energy, while expensive London, New York and LA have tons of creative energy? NYC, London and LA are the three top art centers in the world and they are all pricey. Mexico City, the priciest city in Latin America, is also known as easily the most creative. I don't know anything about the creative industries in Asia, but I would assume the same is true.

  8. #8


    "Otherwise, why do cheap rustbelt places have little creative energy....? "

    Uh... gee... don't know why.

  9. #9
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    The critical mass of young creative folk -- no matter where -- occurs due to the large amounts of available and inexpensive space which is in proximity to a Market for what is being created. That is true for the fine arts as well as music, theater, dance and other disciplines. Creativity thrives on dialog and interaction.

    Kind of hard to get that going in a big hulking empty factory in Buffalo.

  10. #10

    Default artists space

    Wow when I did a search on artists space I never expected to find what I did. What I mean by this first off is that the article was written many years ago yet still sounds very much today's news. Artists spaces are still evolving as well as communities in and around the NYC area which is very good. We jump start many locations over and over again and this needs to always happen. There are many reasons for this no doubt and one thing is very clear we need to have this re occurring constantly and build where needed. So a main ingredient is to support the artists. We need many spaces not just Williamsburg, Manhattan, Rockaway. We have many artists who are of many different ages and its important to make it reachable for all. Artists also need to have stability and funding is always an issue what with supplies alone you can go broke. Something has to be done and we ought to all brain storm to come up with a universal organization to fund local artists not just ememrging established as well with a mentoring program that offers space as well. Possibly an international space exchange program. Especially now when so many are trying to stay afloat and keep the art alive. Everything starts locally and then grows this is good for the economy yes but not always the artist. So the artists should have a privlidge or something to help them since so much is capitolized on their creativeity. Yes this needs to be defined better a guild or something.

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