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Seeking a level playing field for artists in midst of sky-high rents

Patrons gaze at a work by graffiti artist Angel Ortiz (LA Roc) in the lobby of New York's 29 West 39th Street, April 17. The work, "Electrocat," was curated by the Building Art Curatorial Program, which offers established and emerging artists temporary exhibition space in commercial building lobbies. (AP Photo/Ula Inytzky)

NEW YORK: For artists in one of the world’s most expensive cities, finding stable, affordable places to create and showcase their work can be challenging. A growing number of New York City programs are offering solutions that might provide inspiration for arts organizations in other cities gripped by sky-rocketing urban rents.According to the census, 124,000 New Yorkers identified themselves as artists, writers or photographers in 2010. Many artists face a constant struggle to find stable, affordable workspaces.

It’s a problem that’s been growing for decades and is now reaching a critical point, said Paul Parkhill, executive director of Spaceworks, a nonprofit spearheaded in 2011 by the Department of Cultural Affairs to transform underused public and private building spaces into permanent artist workspaces.

“We get a lot of stories about people moving from studio to studio every year or two,” he said, citing once-affordable neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Red Hook as now out of reach.

“But despite the economic challenges, Parkhill continued, “New York is a place where artists want to be.”

Spaceworks’ two visual art spaces in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood rent for $350 per month – about 50-60 percent below market value.

In Long Island City, Queens, Spaceworks’ three theater, dance and music spaces rent for $12 to $16 per hour. It was a godsend when renovations forced the Mabou Mines/Suite theater ensemble to leave its lower Manhattan location.

“We were delighted to find the spaces are generous in size, clean, with sprung floors,” said co-artistic director Sharon Fogarty; the rent would have been triple elsewhere.

Spaceworks is developing rehearsal spaces at the Brooklyn Public Library in Red Hook, as well as rehearsal and visual art spaces at the library’s Williamsburg branch. Within five years, it hopes to have a few hundred visual art studios citywide.

Other programs are also offering relief or extra exposure to artists.

Run by Fractured Atlas Artists, the New York Performing Arts Spaces website lists over 1,700 rehearsal and performance spaces, from major theaters to small studios and church basements.

Some go for $10 per hour during off-peak periods.

These “spaces ... otherwise would go wasted,” program director Lisa Niedermeyer said.

Curate NYC is funded by the city’s Economic Development Corporation and is the brainchild of philanthropist and gallery owner Danny Simmons and marketing maven Brian Tate. Artists are selected for online or New York City gallery exhibitions by curators from institutions like the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

“Commercial galleries really don’t want to take a chance on an unknown artist,” Simmons said. Curate NYC seeks to take that “out of the equation.”

Commercial leasing broker Cindy Glanzrock took the initiative to launch The Building Art Curatorial Program. Working with galleries, she leases works to office buildings, turning marble and granite lobbies into exciting temporary art spaces.

She’s currently showcasing purchasable pieces by former street artists Desire Obtain Cherish, Angel Ortiz (LA Roc) and Sens 2.

About 600 passers-by a day view DOC’s whimsical melting ice cream and blow pop sculptures in a Manhattan lobby.

“The more my work gets exposed,” mused DOC, “the more the potential for sale there is.”

 

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