In New York City, the old refrain goes a little something like this: Artists move into a neighborhood, make it cool, get pushed out by rising housing costs as area desirability increases, artists find another place to settle—and on that cycle goes. A 2015 report by Center for an Urban Future (CUF) found that from 2000 to 2012, in the city’s ten districts most closely associated with art and creativity, rents rose by about 32 percent, a rate that outpaced rent increases citywide.
Regardless, artists are a persistent bunch. As of 2017, at a time when rents dance around their apex, there are more artists living in New York City than ever before. A study released by CUF today finds that the confluence of artists on the city coupled with rising rents has led to the creation of an “artistic diaspora,” where artists are isolated from each other and, both through distance and pricing, the spaces in which they create.
The study looks at the dispersal of artists throughout the five boroughs between 2000 and 2015, the most recent year for which the Census data on which this study is based is available. It found that the New York City neighborhood with the most artists in 2015 is the Upper West Side, a longtime hotspot for artists. The neighborhood’s crowning spot on the list underscores the misconception that all artists are fleeing Manhattan.
The second and third areas most populated by artists are also in Manhattan, but unlike the Upper West Side that saw a small uptick in artist residency between 2000 and 2015, these neighborhoods have lost artists at a dramatic rate. The second most artist-populated area in the city, Greenwich Village/Tribeca/Financial District, lost 24 percent of its artist population in those same 15 years. In the city’s third most artist-populated area, Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen, 28 percent of the area’s artists moved in that same time.
No surprise here: Majority of the neighborhoods with the largest growth in artist residency between 2000 and 2015 are in Brooklyn. Bushwick claims the top spot for city neighborhood with the largest increase in artists, with a bump from 150 in 2000 to 1,824 in 2015. (To put it another way, Bushwick’s artist residency has increased 1,116 percent since 2000.)
Williamsburg/Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights/Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, and Crown Heights also saw a precipitous rise in their artist populations. Other neighborhoods outside of Brooklyn that claim top spots for increase in artist residency include Central Harlem, Astoria, and Throgs Neck/Co-op City.
As artists shuffle their living spaces to maintain, they often become isolated from their places of work. On top of that, the kinds of industrial loft spaces that artists have long favored as work space are being snatched up by the city’s growing information, media, and tech industry (cough, Vice.) CUF found that these industries accounted for just nine percent of New York’s office space in 2002. As of 2012, that number had ballooned to 25 percent.
So what are artists to do? CUF has an idea and it is, in short, to harness the city’s schools’ arts facilities in their after-hours. “Making room for working artists and groups in these spaces will not be easy, of course, or free,” the report reads. “Liability issues and bureaucratic hurdles will be daunting. Security, custodial, insurance, and utility expenses will be considerable.” How to scale those challenges remains unsolved, but it’s an idea worth considering.