These are Dickensian times in the arts world. Across the boroughs, grand new art centers are being planned, opened, and expanded, but meanwhile, here in Williamsburg at least, artists are being evicted at an alarming rate. Although there is no direct link between these two processes, together they lead in a frightening direction: New York City might become an arts capital without artists.
Such a scenario cannot be wished away, without means that the vulnerable parties here, as elsewhere, have only one recourse: to organize. This idea may run contrary to the artist’s individualist temperament, but consider the alternative. A place to live and work is indeed worth whatever personal “sacrifice” such a struggle might entail. Any alliances in defense of artists’ spaces need not, or make that definitely should not, result in a wave of self-pitying depictions of the “homeless artist.” That’s been done, and nobody we know longs for its return.
A call to join together around a collective interest is another way of saying that it is not inevitable for artists to serve as the advance guard, then victims of gentrification. This is the process witnessed in SoHo, then the Lower East Side, and now in several parts of Brooklyn. Quite obviously, artists are not t he only, nor in any way the most dispossessed victims of gentrification, and it is true that they will more than likely land on their feet. Yet the relatively privileged status of artists vis-à-vis poorer city residents is hardly a reason to sneer at a campaign in defense of commercial living spaces. If Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn want to sustain their reputations as places where the arts genuinely thrive, something provocative needs to be done for change. One need only to visit other interchangeably gentrified terrain across the city to know that such is not the legacy that artists want to leave behind.
Some possible directions for action crop up forthwith. Check ‘em out, and get back to us with your solutions. Surviving creatively, whether as an artist, writer, filmmaker, or cultural worker of any sort, is increasingly difficult in this era of ludicrous rent. No matter how uniquely individualist our visions may be, the recession-proof, ever-expanding bottom line on the rent check should hopefully unite us all-a Capraesque ending, to be sure.
With this issue, the print Rail ventures into the worlds of books, theater, and film, of which we promise more in future issues. In the meantime, we invite you to a reading of The Tempest, produced by our pal John Merchant, at Ocularis on Tuesday, January 23rd, at 8:00 p.m.
And, oh, before I forget, Happy Holidays!