New York City for decades has been a premier destination for painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians from across the globe, but the city risks losing its artists if it does not provide subsidized housing and more exhibition and studio space to support the creative class, researchers warn.
A new study of visual artists between the ages of 62 and 97 paints a dire picture of the life of a "mature" working artist in New York: A large percentage of aging artists are more educated than the general public but earn a median income of $30,000, are able to live and work in the city only because of rent-controlled or -stabilized apartments, have made no preparations for their artwork after their death, and have no estate plans or wills.
The findings of the report, "Above Ground," conducted by the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University's Teachers College, are based on interviews with 213 aging artists living and working in New York, and carry implications for artists of all ages who are being priced out of the city, researchers said.
"New York is at risk if we lose that creative community," a former executive director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, Theodore Berger, the project director of Urban Arts Initiative, said. "We risk becoming what Paris has become: filled with wonderful institutions, but with no living, breathing community. It's a question of how we attract and maintain talent in this city, and how that talent matures in the city."
About 59% of aging artists said they stay in New York City because of affordable living spaces ó about 44% live in rent-controlled or -stabilized apartments, according to the study.
"The minute they move or die, it's the end of real estate, and we won't be able to keep younger artists," the director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Teachers College, Joan Jeffri, said. A one-bedroom co-op or condominium in Manhattan in 2006 on average cost $922 a square foot, as compared with $298 in 1989, according to data provided by a real estate appraising firm, Miller Samuel. Cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago are experiencing an influx of young artists who say they cannot afford to practice their craft in New York, artists say. High-end condominiums are sprouting even in neighborhoods that are known as artist enclaves, such as the Lower East Side.
"Rents are beyond what a reasonable person could expect to pay," a former ballet dancer, Suzi Winson, publisher of a small press, Fishdrum Inc., said. "When I lived here as a dancer in the late 1970s, it was still possible."
The report recommends that the city develop studios on Governors Island, recycle buildings that artists would fix up and live in, designate areas in new condominiums to house galleries that would be run by artists, and create a foundation that would provide storage space for artworks. It is against policy for the city to discriminate in affordable housing by occupation, but the Department of Cultural Affairs does try to market affordable housing units to artists.
"There are a lot of resources if you seek them out," a painter and sculptor who lives in the East Village, Amy Beecher, said. Ms. Beecher, 23, said she works out of a studio in Sunset Park granted to her through a nonprofit group, Chashama. "The problem is the residency programs are all really competitive," Ms. Beecher said. "I've considered moving, but it's doable here if you've got the willpower and the vision."
Through five arts councils, one situated in each borough, the city is also working with private companies to create residency programs for artists.
The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council currently offers temporary studio space to artists in the historic Equitable Building near Wall Street, donated by Silverstein Properties.
JP Morgan Chase has also donated space in the basement of its downtown office building for a post-production film studio, according to the LMCC Web site. Even with help, most aging artists reported that they support themselves through second jobs, and that income from art sales represents about 6% of their salaries on average. It isn't only doom and gloom for artists planning a career in New York, according to the study: Compared to the rest of the population, artists stay productive for a longer time, and most said they would likely never retire. More than 83% of aging visual artists said their profession brought them high self-esteem, and they ranked high in overall "life satisfaction." The results of the study on aging artists will be announced this afternoon at Sotheby's auction house in Manhattan.