ATTRACTING DIVERSITY IN AN AFFLUENT CITY

Next New York: Arts + Culture, May 17, 2013

Participants:  
Deborah Berke
Susan Chin
Adam Forman
Hugh Hardy
James Sanders
Carol Willis

SUSAN CHIN: What we are lacking is a discussion about how New Yorkers are advocating for more arts and culture as we see a shift from finance to more diverse industries.

We need to continue to attract people who are making things, who are creative. How do we create enough affordable space for those people to continue to be a part of that industry? How do you provide housing for young creators to bring new energy to the city?

. . .

CAROL WILLIS: We should recognize that the arts are entrepreneurial in nature. The arts may be populist, but they are not likely to be voted upon by a majority. So, should the function of government be to facilitate the entrepreneurial nature of the arts, rather than to ensure funding and investment in areas that need to be contested by different groups?

 HUGH HARDY: That is something for the next administration to wrestle with, and it is our job to try and inform them.

 . . .

ADAM FORMAN: I want to introduce a little nostalgia for the bad old days. What the 1970s offered was art movements with proper nouns. Not just culture, but cultural movements, whether it was Punk Music, or Pop Art, or Hip Hop. 

I think a key element was the fluidity between boroughs and between income levels. The Bowery was a focal point and laboratory to propagate Hip Hop music from the South Bronx, or graffiti from Brooklyn. There was real integration of culture and of class that in many ways has been lost.

Some consider Williamsburg and Bushwick the city’s newest cultural pivot. But I strain to think of a proper noun that has come out of Brooklyn, except for ‘Brooklyn’ itself. What’s missing is geographic, racial, and economic diversity. I am wondering what arts planning can do to improve integration among boroughs, incomes, and ethnicities.

Toronto is very good about public arts investment because they index it to local income levels, and they are very intentional about dispersing it among a variety of neighborhoods. 

JAMES SANDERS: I think you are right. But I think that the 1970s had ‘privileges’ that we no longer enjoy. The city had contracted and that had left huge areas which were formerly very active economically and industrially—including the Bowery, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn. The rents were low and hardly anybody lived there or even wanted to live there.

That provided an opportunity for all sorts of things. Whether it was Hip Hop coming out of the housing projects in the South Bronx—where no one would ever live if they did not have to—or the Bowery, which was a very self-selected community: a very small group operating in the East Village, because nobody else wanted to live there and the rents were low. We do not have that privilege anymore.

We now have the opposite problem, which is a city that is outwardly incredibly successful and naturally everybody is talking about unaffordability. That is the price of success! If people did not want to live here, the prices would be lower. The price of success of New York in the last 15 years is now a challenge that we have to confront. 

For 25 years, New York was hunkered down and not thinking about the future. The city was contracting. What new buildings were you going to need for a contracting population?

DEBORAH BERKE: I want to build on something that James said: We’ve got it good, compared to the secondary and tertiary cities in this country, who would do anything to have New York’s problems. We have tourism. We have culture. We have extraordinary philanthropy. We have lots of rich people. We have visibility. Our problems get focused on and we attempt to get them solved. Other cities have the problems of New York City in the 70s, and they’d love to be like us.

We need to think even bigger and reach out beyond the boundaries of New York City. ‘No Longer Empty’ should share exhibitions done here with cities that don’t have arts capital. Maybe library courses could become online courses for cities that can’t fill their libraries with programs. Maybe the 7 Line should be extended to Pittsburgh and beyond! Let’s think and plan and act regionally, even nationally.

If we think only about our backyard, we are losing urban capital that is building nationally. And in working with other cities, we can help them, and they can help us, and we can be about cities, not just our city.