When Sunset Park's Industry City changed hands last year, the new owners embarked on a massive overhaul of the 17-building waterfront complex and raised rents by as much as 50 percent across the board. Many new smaller "maker" companies moved in, but dozens of artists were forced to leave their studios because they could not afford the higher rents. Industry City was previously seen as a bastion of affordable workspace for artists, with nonprofits like New York Art Residency and Studios Foundation offering studio space and a creative community. The Times recently followed up with nearly half of the four dozen artists who lost their studios, and many of them are wondering where they could possibly go next; high rents already pushed them out of neighborhoods like Dumbo and Williamsburg.
The situation highlights an issue for artists working in all five boroughs: it's hard to find "stable, affordable space" anywhere, according to the head of Spaceworks, a real estate nonprofit dedicated to creating affordable studios. "Outer borough commercial and industrial space is very tight," he told the Times. One factor, the Times notes, is that there's been an uptick in demand over the last decade. Census data from 2000 shows that 108,000 New Yorkers identified themselves as "artists, writers or photographers," while 2010 data shows that number jumped to 124,000. Spaceworks was founded with help from the city's Cultural Affairs Department in 2011 to help keep up with demand, but even they can't provide enough; a recent program drew 55 applications for just two new studio spaces in Gowanus.
When photographer Nathan Kensinger visited Industry City, curator and Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui stated the obvious to him: "Gentrification is a gradual process that none of us can stop. Artists always go to places where there is cheap rent. They pioneer neighborhoods, whether it is SoHo, Tribeca, etc." As many commenters on the Times story point out, artists are often financial generators for real estate, then it's real estate that pushes them out. Several commenters argued for more government support for the creative industry; there are business incentives for the technology industry and new sports arenas often get tax breaks, so why not something for working artists too?
On the other hand, some people think artists are part of the problem. "I'd like to say I feel sorry for these artists, but I can't. Do they not understand that they're part of the problem, along with the NYT real estate section?" writes NYT commenter AD. "As soon as these artists start moving in, the Times raves about how they're rescuing the community, and pretty soon, rents start shooting up, the immigrants and working class people are pushed out, and them even the artists can't live there as the yuppies start flooding in."
· Rising Rents Leave New York Artists Out in the Cold [NYT]
· Sunset Park Industrial Stronghold Spurs Neighborhood Change [Curbed]
· All Industry City coverage [Curbed]
Photo by Nathan Kensinger