Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Why is everyone (talking about) leaving New York City?

(This sounds an awful lot like Lou Reed, doesn't it.)

The other day, someone said offhandedly that New York City was like a 50 year old woman who hasn't realized she isn't 20 anymore. That cut me to the quick -- in part because it meant that I was culpable in some small way by having taken up with such a delusional middle aged broad. I want to believe that there are probably a dizzying array of things that I haven't realized either but the unfortunate truth is, I do realize those things and I'm here, anyway.  I'm not sure what here is -- a modern day purgatory, a self-imposed exile, a bad habit that's eaten up the best years of my life. Or maybe it's just flat-out stupidity.  It's probably all of those things and more.

Every other day, some artist I know goes off on some rant about the death of this city that sparks something in me.  How they have to work a full time job or work freelance, and there's no time or energy left to create anything because the best of you just got squeezed out to pay rent and student loans. How working freelance means that you're at the mercy of a backwards situation -- that is, you're taking the work no one else wants or is able to do. You are grossly underpaid because there's always a recent college graduate who would be happy to do it for less than nothing or better yet, for nothing at all, just so they can get enough experience to climb over you and get ahead, where ever that is. How the best of what you've got has gone into everyone else's creative situation and years into this bone-crushing, soul destroying grist mill of a town, you've got nothing to show for it.

Librettists. Dancers. Musicians. Filmmakers. Graphic artists.  Clothing designers. Stylists. Visual artists of every ilk imaginable. It's like an epidemic of some sort, when everyone gets the flu one by one. You're on the train, someone coughs and the next thing you know, you're in bed for two days. We're all feeling it. We're all experiencing it. We're all aware of it. And no one is doing anything about it. Everytime I turn around, I'm running into someone that let's it blurt.  They're moving to Austin, Texas or they're running off to Berlin or God knows where. And God knows there's always graduate school.  Or a national tour. But those things only prolong the agony.  Eventually, you return and you catch this sickness, just like everyone else.

I ran into a friend on the street -- well-educated, somewhat well-known and struggling like the rest of us -- who went off on a tangent out of nowhere about how impossible it is to find space in the city to sculpt large scale work.  What's obvious by now is that this city is a place for those who are already on top, not the rest of us who have yet to establish ourselves.  Ah, but it wasn't always so.  There used to be room at the table for all of us. Now we sit here, with our bowls extended and our wide open hungry eyes peering into that dark urban abyss, wanting more and not getting it. It's only a matter of time until we go away. Right?

There are others who seem to recognize this -- everyone from twentysomethings who've figured it out already (dig this line from that article: "Why would I want to make it there when I can make it everywhere else?") to David Byrne and Patti Smith and a lot of other people, too.  Everyone isn't just talking about leaving New York City. They're actually leaving. Early and mid-level artists are experiencing a collective grand mal seizure of epic proportions.  All these part time jobs just aren't adding up like they used to do.

This quote from an article in Crains that was published in 2010 pretty much sums it up: Industry experts worry that New York will become a place where art is presented but not made, turning the city into an institutionalized sort of Disney Land. One arts executive says it could become “a Washington, D.C.,” a sterile, planned city with a number of cultural institutions but few artists—certainly not a place known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.

David Byrne is right.  Take a long walk through any Manhattan neighborhood and you'll see we're well on our way to urban sterilization. The rest of us will eventually see ourselves out.

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