Surviving the Warhol Economy

Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy — “How Fashion, Art & Music Drive New York” — argues that the creative capital conjured by artists and their ilk is more significant to the success of modern metropoli than more prosaic, dependably lucrative industries. So, she says, NYC ought to support nightlife and other semi-social structures that bring the creatives together to mix and match (simultaneously attracting the duller but well-heeled financial services types, realtors and lawyers), also subsidize artists’ workspaces and affordable housing. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

The book (which reads like a dissertation; Currid’s an ass’t prof at U of S. Cal’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, with a Ph.D. in urban planning from Columbia) makes some welcome points, but focuses almost exclusively on the glamour arts, those high-paying fields that eat up fresh young talents driven by the stick of ambition to chase the juicy but slippery carrot of success (read: big $s and a celebrity profile leading to a secure future). Currid is hot for Fashion Week, visual artists with shows in Chelsea galleries and rock ‘n’ rap stars; she doesn’t have much to say for the less glitzy toilers who’ve managed to endure past being new-to-the-game but have yet to strike it rich.
Those actors, art directors, dancers, musicians, photographers, print-makers, recording studio engineers, and oh yes journalist-writers NOT featured in Interview — the ones who might have formerly tripped the light fantastic, hooked up for fleeting, business-incestuous affairs and crashed in dumps and hovels with roomates, but now are coupled, with responsibilities like children and bills — probably lack the verve to club ’til all hours (ok, I’m writing from personal experience) and the patience for sublets, shares and funky sleeping arrangments. Even if they’re bohos at heart, middle-age has likely reinforced their appreciation of middleclasshood. They (we) want to work without having to fulltime schmooze to make it happen (more personal experience). There’s work alright, but making a living requires cumulative productivity — a constant stream of modestly compensated contracts, rather than a big hit that sets one up for life. According to Currid, artists get contracts through loose contacts — by hanging out in close proximity, and enjoying serendipitous encounters. And what if that center doesn’t hold?
In New York, we don’t hold our breaths for affordable housing, nor is subsidized longterm work space on the horizon. Manhattan’s not the only borough, but studios, offices, room for resource libraries, peace & quiet are not more readily available or affordable in Brooklyn or the other “outer boroughs,” from what I’ve seen in six weeks of search. And the further out you go, the harder it is to get around.
Last year high Manhattan rents caused me to move to Brooklyn after having lived in the East Village since arriving in NYC from Chicago in 1982. I’m currently having to leave my office of 13 years, wondrously situated in Greenwich Village, because the rent is doubling. This happenstance is extremely problematic. My current apt. isn’t small, but can’t house 18,000 cds, 6,000 lps, innumerable cassettes, hundreds of dvds, books, personal papers in multiple filing cabinets as well as such personal effects as my family. Maybe I don’t need all that stuff (family excluded), should digitize it or put it in storage, though those options cost something, too, as does the retrieval time when a particular artifact is necessary for reference or production.
Financing a library isn’t something I’d planned on when I started freelancing about music, teaching or writing books. (Oh yeah, my new one Miles, Ornette, Cecil — Jazz Beyond Jazz is officially published today!) Where will I sit, brood, daydream, write the next one? Can I find a room large enough, cheap enough and near enough of those other creative capital conjurers so we can rub elbows, exchange ideas and maybe forge a community? Park Slope ain’t the ’70s-’80s East Village, and from what I’ve seen, neither are Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Gowanus, Red Hook. Rent’s too high, subway service too spotty.
My labors have already changed as attending two or three jazz sets a night is no longer possible with an hour-long subway ride home. What if my office is off an obscure business street in an unhip, working class (as opposed to trust fund) neighborhood. Will I run into musicians, record producers, concert promoters? Get visiting artists to drop by for interviews, get cronies to come out for a beer? Mother of mercy — er, Ms. Currid — Can this be the end of Rico?
Stay tuned for further reports. But my guess is Andy would have run a very different Factory if it had been ten stops in Brooklyn on the F or Q lines.

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  1. Buffalonian says

    You could always consider moving to Buffalo or elsewhere upstate. In Buffalo you could buy a large 100 year old Victorian house and use the money you save to JetBlue to Manhattan when you need to. You still have a cultural life to surround you with the Albright-Knox and Burchfield-Penny Art Galleries, many small galleries, Buffalo’s extensive theatre scene, and one of “America’s ten best neighborhoods” the Elmwood Village. Not to mention everything the University at Buffalo and several liberal arts colleges have to offer.
    Sound ridiculous to Manhattanistas? Check out ArtSpace Buffalo:
    HM writes: Maybe someone could make a living writing about jazz and culture in Buffalo, if they had a teaching position there. I attended Syracuse U, and so I’m familiar with those winters. And I don’t think I could afford a 100-yr-old Victorian even in Buffalo. But thanks for the thought.