Thursday, December 25, 2014

Young artists: Don't move to NYC

New York used to be a haven for young, up-and-coming artists but today more and more artists are flocking to cities like Philly and Detroit. What happened?

Young artists: Don't move to NYC

It was at the University of Georgia this past April that art critic Paddy Johnson from Art F City boldly told young artists not to move to New York City. Johnson, originally from Canada, but now a New Yorker herself, is not the first person to encourage young artists to shield their eyes from the glare of the city of lights.

Patti Smith made headlines in 2011, for her remark to writer Jonathan Lethem at Cooper Union, saying "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city."

Paddy Johnson (left) and Patti Smith (right)

Artists have always flocked to New York City. In the 60s Soho seized the vitality that coursed through Paris in the 20s. The surge that clenched the city fostered a kinetic creativity captured in places, like Pop artist Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory. Soho, amongst many other parts of the city, became a hub for artists, where art movements expanded, and where people felt inspired.

New York City was a muse for the artists who inhabited it, providing those yearning to create with quintessential New York stamina. For some, NYC remains to be that very source of stimulus; yet, in the past decade, whether from art critics or artists, attitudes have been changing towards New York and cities like our very own are becoming the new New York for artists.

Why? Mainly the cost. But where Patti Smith would suggest that the city was taken from artists, Paddy Johnson would argue that it is partially because of the artists that the cost of living is so high. “Where artists go, rents will rise—that’s a story told over and over in New York,” Johnson writes in an article, titled Are Artists Gentrifying Sunset Park?, in The L Magazine. The article continues to describe personal accounts of people in south Brooklyn’s Sunset Park who witnessed the section's transition from a “working-class neighborhood” to a community that was experiencing the effects of gentrification.

The idea is that artists are attracted to these low-cost neighborhoods because, in them, they can afford studio spaces. However this flux of artists renting out studios inevitably draws attention to these decaying urban enclaves, and after the artists it is not too long before bars, cafes, shops, and apartment complexes pop up.

We have seen similar transitions in our own backyard. Entire neighborhoods have been revamped and restored because of the young and struggling that have migrated to them. Look at Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital area that absorbed the slurry of college graduates and young professionals from bordering areas. Next to what the neighborhood was just a decade ago the region is nearly unrecognizable. Between 2000 and 2010 the average household income in that area rose by 56 percent from an estimated $43,000 to $67,000.

Kensington is undergoing preliminary stages of a comparable conversion. Located in between the lower Northeast and North Philadelphia, Kensington has been one of Philadelphia’s up and coming areas, and much of its progress can be accredited to artists. According to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), “Today, because of the rising costs of living in Center City, artists and new homeowners are pushing northward and reviving that great heritage.”  Venues like, Crane Arts, Walking Fish Theater, and Little Berlin have surfaced as major cultural contributors to the city, and as a result the surrounding area is evolving. 

We can see that, based on the attention the community has received, the housing market is being effected and at a rapid pace. “The median sales price for homes in Kensington, Philadelphia for Feb 13 to Apr 13 was $120,000 based on 135 sales. Compared to the same period one year ago, the median sales price increased 37.9%, or $33,000, and the number of sales increased 31.1%. Average price per square foot for Kensington was $111, an increase of 9.9% compared to the same period last year,” reported by Trulia.

Artists flourish in Philly because of neighborhoods like Kensington that offer artists the space to create. Yet Philadelphia is far from the only city that artists have been moving to as an alternative to the hustle and bustle of NYC. Phoenix, Arizona, Atlanta, Georgia, Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have all top lists of the best cities for young artists.

So artists have discovered and populated new cities and the cities are feeling the influence. But is this a quiet sendoff from artists to New York? Are they slowly severing their ties in a solemn, “it’s not you, it’s my wallet.” Perhaps in this way New York has been taken from them, and from all of us.

Major television networks have caught on to the love-hate relationship between the youth and the city, and have capitalized on it. HBO’s current hit series Girls—a show that follows a group of twenty-something friends, depicts a New York City that’s very different from the city portrayed by the previous HBO series that ended in 2004, Sex and the City. Many parallels have been drawn between the two shows, however Sex and the City’s NYC was glamorous, decadent, and full of opportunity, where Girls’ NYC has filled the role of an antagonist that incessantly reminds it’s characters of the difficulty of “making it” there.

Of course, one can still find success in the NYC but the soil that lies beneath the concrete jungle is undeniably dry without the connections and money needed to fuel that growth. The alternative to possessing those resources: obtain them somewhere else.

Artist Jayson Musson moved from Philadelphia to Brooklyn after spending a decade and a half in the city of brotherly love. “When I moved to New York, I moved in a time when there were a lot of opportunities opening up for me because of the Hennessy videos, so I moved at the right time in my career,” says Musson. His work gained popularity after his ART THOUGHTZ videos captured the attention of thousands of online viewers, where Musson teaches art theory under the guise of adroit, farcical art critic, Hennessy Youngman.

"On Some Faraway Beach" by Jayson Musson. Photo courtesy of Salon 94.


Leaving at the “right time” was critical for Musson, as well as it is for the artists that are hoping to survive in NYC. “You get a job to pay for your exorbitant rent, and then on top of that you most likely live in a space that you don’t have room to work in, so you have to get a studio on top of your rent, utilities, insurance, health insurance, and food. It’s really difficult, where during my time here [in Philadelphia] I was able to work out of my kitchen.”

Musson accredits his success to the time he was able to develop as an artist in Philadelphia, but continues to flourish in Brooklyn. In fall of this year, Musson hopes to be releasing a graphic, not-so-kid friendly children’s e-book with publishing house Badland Unlimited entitled “The American.”

Artists know that “making it” in the big apple is not what it used be. It’s possible that without the momentum that hoisted artists like Musson into prominence, by the Internet and the places nurture their talents, they would never have become successful. “I wasn’t rushed to anything living in Philly, I could work at my own place, but New York is more challenging because there is all this pressure,” says Musson. If you can meet the challenge of New York City then by all means do so but, if not, there are plenty of open armed alternatives for artists in search of space to create.

Amanda V. Wagner Philly.com
About this blog
Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Amanda V. Wagner Philly.com
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