Amid Real-Estate Squeeze, Trying to Carve Out Space for NYC’s Emerging Artists

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Artist Kate Fauvell had studio space that grew too expensive and was working out of her home before she found a place through Spaceworks.

Kate Fauvell

Artist Kate Fauvell had studio space that grew too expensive and was working out of her home before she found a place through Spaceworks.

It’s never been easy to make it as an artist anywhere, let alone New York. But as the city’s real-estate market intensifies interest in the buildings and neighborhoods that used to offer affordable studio space to artists, more and more practitioners are finding it difficult simply to find a way to do their work.

When the Center for an Urban Future explored the problem in its Creative New York 2015 report, the writer and curator Andy Horwitz told author Adam Foreman: “Renting performance space at places like Dance Theater Workshop or PS 122 used to cost $500 a week. Now the point of entry is $2,500-$5,000. As a result, there’s very little vertical movement among artists. You can be an ’emerging’ artist for a good 10 to 12 years.”

Spaceworks is a non-profit group that is giving artists across New York City the opportunity to rent work space at affordable costs. It opened up its Gowanus facility at 540 President St. in February 2016, providing 27 art studios with rents up to $800 dollars a month.

Executive Director Paul Parkhill says a survey the group conducted four years ago shows many artists have a hard time affording spaces. Parkhill says a small visual-arts space can start at about $1,000 a month, while rehearsal space can cost $40 to $50 an hour. The general consensus among artists is that $300 to $400 a month is more reasonable.

“These days, that’s very, very below market,” says Parkhill. “We’ve tried to set our visual art studios at around that range, although depending on the structure of different projects, we’re better able to subsidize to that level.”

The 27 studios in Gowanus rent in the $400 to $800 range, which Parkhill says is still lower than others on the market. Spaceworks is able to help keep the costs for these studios low with funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs. Parkhill says they work closely with the agency and often find city-owned property where artist work spaces can be created.

Kate Fauvell, one of the artists working out of the spaces in Gowanus, says she used to pay $700 a month for her studio in Bushwick and now pays $425. Fauvell says having somewhere affordable means that she can show her work to others without worrying about lack of space, which could be a problem if she had to use her home.

Parkhill says a growing appetite for the kind of real estate that typically houses studio space is one of the reasons he believes art spaces across the city are becoming more expensive and less attainable.

“They become more appealing for office spaces, tech uses, residential conversions,” says Parhkill. “I think landlords have increasingly realized they can charge much higher rents than they used to and that inevitably leads to displacement.”

Both performing and visual artists must submit an online application to be considered for a spot at Spaceworks. They are also required to submit materials that an intake panel reviews to determine the artists are maintaining an active practice.

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City Limits’ coverage of art policy is supported
by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

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