According to a recent survey by local non-profit LINC, a majority of artists — including those working in fine art, music and literature — have been making less money and finding fewer outlets for their work over the last year.
Michael Royce, executive director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, said a unsettling percentage of artists have been struggling.
“The more startling number we found was that 60 percent said their income had decreased by at least 25 percent over the last year,” he said.
New York artists, though, aren’t giving up, and they are putting their creative talents to use to stay afloat instead.
Lauren Bergman and Ed Lederman
Painter Lauren Bergman, for example, has expanded into jewelry and T-shirt design while her husband Ed Lederman, a photographer, is now mixing commercial and fine arts projects.
“We’re always coming up with these little ideas of just surviving,” said Lederman, who is in his mid-50s.
One of those ideas was giving up his studio to work at home, a step that Lederman actually took in the recession of the 1990s. Currently he and Bergman both work out of their Barrow Street apartment.
Bushwick musician Brook Pridemore lost his restaurant job at the end of 2008.
“This is the first time since 1994 that I haven’t had some sort of [second job],” he said.
But instead of looking for another job, he decided to make the plunge to working full time as a musician.
“This time has given me the drive to figure out how to not have to get another job and not starve to death,” he said.
Pridemore lives in an artist’s co-op that hosts regular concerts.
“I have this tarbouche that I pass around and people put dollars in it and that’s how people get paid,” he said. “They get paid a pittance. … [But] my apartment has been one of people’s favorite places in NYC to play.”
Artists are also adjusting the scale of their work.
“I tend to make stuff that’s big and I definitely was not going to do that [this time],” said Kimberley Hart, an artist in her early 40s, about her recent show of works on paper at Mixed Greens gallery. “I really didn’t want to make these huge installations, because [past projects] are in my studio in crates. Because for the last couple of years, that’s just not what people have the ability to have.”
Reina Mia Brill and Dan Treiber
Before the recession, Bronx sculptor Reina Mia Brill, was content to let comissions come to her. But when that work dried up last year, that strategy wasn’t going to work anymore.
“I just pulled myself together and said, ‘I’m going to make a change. I’m going to get aggressive. I’m going to deal with it,’” she said.
Brill, 38, started contacting galleries more aggressively and chasing down potential sales, a strategy that’s paid off.
“I have like seven commissions to do. And I’ve never had a waiting list,” she said. “I’m booked for work through March.”
This has turned things around as well for her husband and business partner Dan Treiber, a musician who runs the label Crafty Records. Pre-recession, the label was something of a hobby.
“But now that [Brill’s] stuff is going really well, I need to be in the art studio every day unless I’m working on the label and the label is doing something positive,” he said. “So it’s actually made me more efficient with the label because we don’t have enough time.”
Unless you’re a superstar, art is not something that will make you rich. So the question for most artists, like, Treiber, is not, “How much economic misery do I take before I quit?” but “how do I sustain my passion?”
“We get to do creative things all day every day,” Treiber said. “Most people hate their jobs. I don’t ever want to hate my job. So the impetus to not ever [work a non-art job] again makes us believe in what we do and it’s working.”
Artists on the move?
It’s been more than 10 years since Williamsburg and DUMBO, both one stop from Manhattan, were within financial reach of low-earning artists. The creative types that remain are generally those that got in when the getting was good.
Kimberley Hart and her husband moved to Williamsburg 13 years ago, and she says now they feel stuck.
“Our rent has more than doubled,” she said. “[But] we would never be able to afford what normal people pay to have an apartment and studios. So we were stuck paying what we can’t hardly afford.”
The course of gentrification has been forcing newcomers further east, if they haven’t given up on the borough of Brooklyn entirely.
“There’s three miles of Brooklyn that I can’t afford to live in, before I get to a place where its dirt poor enough that that’s where the artists are living,” said Brook Pridemore who has been living in Bushwick since August 2007.
Not surprisinly, the recession has only made things worse.
“I’ve noticed that some artists have had to move out of the city; move back home or somewhere cheaper,” said Don Carroll, owner of Williamsburg gallery Jack the Pelican Presents.
In a recent survey by the New York Foundation for the Arts, 10 percent of artists said that they were seriously considering moving out of the city because of the recession.