Is It Really Possible For Artists To Stop Gentrification?


  • Photo via FactoryFresh

Well, nothing apart from a large-scale crash of everything that’s been driving New York’s fiscal stability, unfathomable, ongoing real estate boom, and status as a desirable cultural hub could really stop gentrification. And presumably, that’d be a mixed bag.

Still, a group of Bushwick artists spearheaded by Jules de Balincourt, William Powhida, Lynn Sullivan, and Paddy Johnson (our Art Editor and columnist at the L) has been talking for a while now about possible ways to keep themselves from being priced out of yet another up-and-coming neighborhood and “pushed further down the L.” Paul D’Agostino spoke with Powhida earlier this month in the L, and per an update on the situation in today’s Wall Street Journal, it would seem that the going solution is real estate.

“Let’s lay some roots here before Urban Outfitters,” Balincourt told the paper. “Let’s at least stake out our little islands amongst this flood of gentrification that’s coming through.” While plans continue moving forward on a massive, moneyed development in the old Rheingold Brewery building and the cost of some studios is as much as quadrupling, Balincourt and a group of around 75 other artists are hoping to buy a building or two in the neighborhood to guarantee themselves affordable studio spaces, either with the help of investors or pooled money on a down payment. The example he gave the paper was a group of 10 artists hypothetically laying out $40,000 each for a $400,000 down payment on a $2 million building. Which is still much, much more money than most people I know have kicking around (so is $400), but then, a lot easier to handle than bleeding your resources dry every month on un-stabilized rent or shouldering the load of a $1 million building all by oneself.

And maybe not so quixotic that it can’t be pulled off? Commercial property broker Nicholas Griffin, who’s been advising the group, pointed out obvious (and arguably inevitable) holes in the plan—namely, the temptation for artists to later rent out said affordable spaces for lots and lots of money—but also thinks the whole thing really could work. “They’re not talking about stopping the tide of gentrification and development of neighborhoods. If they were hoping to do that, it’s not realistic,” Griffin said. “But a small group of artists can mitigate it by carving out pieces for themselves. I think that is viable.” If, in five years, you can still get off the train and see anyone who doesn’t look like a banker or low-level fashion publicist, that’s when we’ll know it worked.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.


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