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Village Remains Tops for Artists in NYC

    From the Center for An Urban Future Report

Greenwich Village has long enjoyed a reputation as a mecca for artists.  The same can be said of nearby NoHo and SoHo, though the reputation for those neighborhoods is slightly newer (about fifty years, as opposed to well over a hundred for the Village).  The list of notable creative types who’ve made a home here would scarcely fit in a novel, much less a 1,000 word blog post.

However, in recent years the Village and environs have also been branded by some as no longer being hospitable to artists.  The thinking goes that creative types now live only in places like Brooklyn and the South Bronx, and that unlike in the past, artists now shun these pricey burgs, and have moved on to greener pastures.

But a new report released by the Center for An Urban Future paints a very different picture.  In fact, based upon their data, the Village, NoHo, and SoHo appear to remain on top of the artistic heap in New York City, even as the number of artists in the city, and the breadth and diversity of where they live, has continued to grow.

Greenwich Village Artists exhibit, by Everett, 1947 via Fine Art America

The report identifies, among other things, the top ten “census-defined” neighborhoods in New York City in terms of raw numbers of artists.  The Upper West Side is #1 with 5,584 artists, while what they refer to as “Greenwich Village/Financial District” is #2 with 3,989 artists.  This is followed by:

3. Chelsea / Clinton / Midtown (3,711)
4. Upper East Side (3,049)
5. Williamsburg / Greenpoint (2,908)
6. Park Slope / Carroll Gardens (2,602)
7. Brooklyn Heights / Fort Greene (2,445)
8. Lower East Side / Chinatown (2,413)
9. Washington Heights / Inwood (1,995)
10. Astoria / Long Island City (1,919)

This might appear to place the Village in a distant second, but comparing raw numbers of artists in “census-defined” neighborhoods is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.

(l. to r.) Community Board 1, 2, and 7

The “census-defined” neighborhood they are referring to in the #1 spot is actually Community Board #7, or the west side of Manhattan between 59th and 110th Streets, which has a population (according to the 2010 census) of 209,084 people.  The “census-defined” neighborhood at the #2 spot which the report refers to as “Greenwich Village/Financial District” is actually the combined Community Boards 1 and 2 in Manhattan, which includes the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, NoHo, SoHo, Little Italy, Tribeca, the Financial District, the South Street Seaport, Battery Park City, Civic Center, and parts of Chinatown (see maps above). This somewhat random hodge-podge of neighborhoods they lump together as a single entity has a combined population of just 154,918 people (according to the 2010 census). Given the significant population difference between the two areas, a more apples-to-apples comparison than the number of artists in each would be the number of artists per capita in both areas.

Tony Rosenthal’s Alamo Sculpture on Astor Place, long a symbol of the artistic personality of the Village and surrounding neighborhoods.

On a per capita basis, it’s a virtual dead-heat for the #1 spot, with both the Upper West Side (Community Board 7) and the Greenwich Village-to-Financial District area (Community Boards 1 and 2) at about 2.65% of their populations identified as artists, though the Upper West Side district has a slight edge.  So how is the Village still on top?

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the per capita artist count in Greenwich Village, NoHo, and SoHo is probably a bit higher than in Battery Park City and the Financial District.  And thus I think it’s a pretty safe extrapolation and assumption that if we took Community Board #1 and its neighborhoods out of the equations and we were just comparing Community Board #2 (Greenwich Village, SoHo, NoHo, Little Italy) to Community Board #7 (Upper West Side), or even just Greenwich Village vs. the Upper West Side, the current dead heat would likely become a blow out for the Village and neighboring areas in terms of per capita concentration of artists as compared to the Upper West Side, and thus these neighborhoods would have the highest concentration of artists in New York City.

circa 1950 photos of the Washington Square Art Show (Nat Kaufman collection, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)

Using the per capita figure rather than the raw numbers to compare areas, the Village’s unwieldy hodge-podge “census-defined” area extending down to Battery Park (2.65% artists) continues to come out on top of Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen/Midtown (2.395%),  Park Slope/Carroll Gardens/Red Hook (2.48%), and Brooklyn Heights/Fort Greene (2.45%). And it comes out well on top of such up-and-comers as Williamsburg/Greenpoint (1.68%), the Lower East Side/East Village/Chinatown (1.478%), Astoria/Long Island City (1%), Bushwick (1.62%) and Central Harlem (0.8%).

The report also shows that the public schools in the Village, SoHo, and NoHo, or at least those within the school district within which they are located, have the largest number of visual arts studios, auditoriums, theater classrooms, music rooms, dance rooms, and film studios in the entire city, as compared to all other school districts.  This further attests to the area’s continued preeminence in and dedication to the arts.

From the CUF report. The school district within which the Village, NoHo and SoHo is located has the largest number of arts-related facilities in its public schools of any district in the city. The report posits that such resources citywide could be used not just by students but local artists.

But the news is not all good for the Village on the artistic front.  According to the study, the “census-defined” Greenwich Village-to-Financial District neighborhood has seen a sharp drop in the number and percentage of artists since 2000, as has most of Manhattan south of 96th Street. Meanwhile Upper Manhattan, inner Brooklyn and Queens, and somewhat inexplicably Co-op City/Throgs Neck in the East Bronx have seen the steepest rise in the presence of artists (nothing against Co-op City/Throgs Neck; I grew up there, and whatever the draw for artists may be now, I clearly missed it back then).

But what this empirical study shows is that pessimistic forecasts aside, the Village remains a potent center (arguably the center) for artists in New York. Of course these are for the most part no longer the proverbial starving artists — that is unless they are lucky enough to live at Westbeth (subsidized housing for artists), in rent stabilized housing (of which the Village still has a plentiful concentration), or were lucky or smart enough to have bought in the neighborhood way back when when a starving artist could still do so. Instead, the artists that call the Village home today are now largely (if not entirely) successful and established figures in their field.

That said, the study also does show that gentrification and escalating real estate prices are taking their toll on the artistic character of the Village, which, along with Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen/Midtown, saw the steepest declines in the number of artists in their midst. Fortunately the statistics seem to indicate the Village still has artistic character to burn, given that even with the big drop it remains on top.

But that won’t last forever.  And that increasing difficulty for artists to remain in the Village no doubt will be a big issue for this neighborhood as time goes on.  The Village is struggling to maintain one of its cardinal characteristics, even as its popularity and desirability place it farther out of reach as a place to live for a broader and broader segment of the population — artistic and otherwise.

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