How to Keep Artists in Industry City

Industry City is the most important collection of vintage space in the western hemisphere! Nowhere else does one group control so much pre-war loft space in one place. Tenants in Brooklyn need to go to the Sunset Park waterfront, because there is practically nowhere else to go. And it has an amazing future, given that Industry City leased more work space than any other complex in Brooklyn last year.

Julie Satow’s New York Times piece covered what happens when values increase and some artists are squeezed. Let me try to give some context here. One key fact to keep in mind – the art market is the only unregulated market in the USA, other than drugs and foreign currency exchange. Artists sell to the upper classes in a totally free market economy. No one else producing product does so − Pure capitalism. Somewhat like real estate, which is heavily regulated, except for some residential rental pricing.

Yes, artists are utilized to validate buildings, bringing the buzz and otherwise starting the inevitable march upwards and onwards for whole neighborhoods. SoHo, DUMBO, Bushwick, Sunset Park; artists will go where ever they must to find affordable space to live and work in.

Today, we view the legendary East 10th Street (abstract expressionists) and John Street (Rauchenberg and Johns) as romantic places to have created great art, but at the time, these areas were noisier than Dumbo, way dirtier than anywhere in NYC and very crowded with leaded gas trucks. The old buildings had little heat, were dangerous and had bad plumbing. Lack of basic shopping amenities was the least of it, just as south Morgan and Kingsland Avenue tenants deal with today.

We need monthly rents of $250, $500 and $1,000, which are fast disappearing, because early career artists are the base on which the whole art production system rests, so this tough market is not good for the art industry. Like many societies, the art world has a wealthy aristocracy, which includes artists, a middle class of teachers, scholars and employees, as well as a huge lower class of producers. The amount of unsold art just in NYC dwarfs what you see in Chelsea.

Yes, artists also displace other tenants – especially by code violation and camping in buildings – as they raise the value of the spaces formerly occupied by low rent manufacturing and storage tenants. Artists are exploited to buzz up neighborhoods, but they also are part of the economic chain of change, not an exception.

For the sake of the artists and the art making industry − a huge NYC business − and for us affordable art collectors, we need to continue to provide space to create the new. One way to do it – owners, let them co-habit. When Dumbo had 500 artists, most shared space with others. Owners, let them co-habit.

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