I listened and thought these 'innovators' are growing old and tired. Rather than revealing open minds, their verbal struggle was suggesting a rather stubborn unwillingness to accept change. I turned the page in my sketchbook, cleaned my brushes, polished my palette, and readied myself for a new painting, thinking about similar conversations that I participated in some thirty-five years ago in NYC. I had been as convinced as are Krasny & Talbot of the 'danger' of the obvious changes in my neighborhood. Deja vu, all over again.
Then, I was living as a low-income struggling artist in downtown Manhattan in a zone of open raw industrial lofts, useful for studios, an area south of Houston St that would later become desirable for those with comfortable incomes who appreciated art and wanted the expansive 'freedom' of artist lofts. I had been living with my husband on Lispenard St, below Canal St, paying far less than $300/mo for a loft with a fully equipped kitchen, skylights, a working studio, a bathtub large enough and deep enough to serve as a swimming pool for my toddler sons. When that marriage exploded in a sea of sparks, I lived for a while in a more modest one-bedroom $40/mo railroad apartment on East Fourth St (yes, that is really FORTY), and then in a third floor walk-up (a two-bedroom apartment on) Greenwich St. When the rent on that 'too-small' apartment (spacious by today's standards) threatened to go to $375/mo, I threw up my hands and joined the outcry of too high, too high.
I wrote a song with lyrics that I thought amusing yet confrontational but now recognize as being rather tinged with the same bitterness that Krasny and Talbot were savoring as they discussed changes happening in SF. I used to sing my silly song as I walked through the shifting sands of the developing neighborhoods of Soho and the newly named Tribeca, glaring at those who carried briefcases and sported expensive hand-tailored Italian suits.
Think I'll move to Soho
Paint my kitchen Day-Glo
Just like an artist, just like an artist
And then come Saturday
I'll go hang on West Broadway
Just like an artist, just like an artist
There were other verses, but the refrain Just like an artist, just like an artist would always repeat, repeat, repeat. I suppose I was angry that my neighborhood was being 'co-opted' by professionals capable of paying higher rents. Like many, I resented that they had access to resources struggling artists did not. I was one of the many who felt these nameless (and no doubt hard-working) folks did not belong. They were creating unwelcome change that would melt the city, destroy the easy cultural vibrancy we all enjoyed, take all that we had struggled so hard to build. They were vampires.
And so I moved my studio and my family into a very raw 3000 sq.ft loft on the Brooklyn waterfront and signed a ten-year lease that allowed the rent to rise at a glacial pace, rising to $175/mo only as the lease neared its end. The neighborhood had been essentially abandoned -- storefronts gaped open, fires smouldered everywhere, glass and broken brick littered the sidewalks -- and the landlord was not looking to 'cash in.' He was simply grateful to have capable tenants who might keep his property safe from roaming vandals.
Years piled into decades and downtown Manhattan continued to change, to grow and expand. As rents rose and rose and rose, many more artists did leave . . . A rose is a rose is a rose, after all, but their exodus did not kill the city or the arts. It helped develop the outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn, into arts communities. Later, of course, that changed, too. The collapsed neighborhood that provided edgy sanctuary for escaped Soho artists is today, like Soho, an extraordinarily desirable tree-shaded neighborhood largely occupied by professionals who cannot afford Manhattan rents. The once trashed storefronts are now occupied by restaurants and exclusive shops, any artists have moved once again, deeper into Brooklyn. Soho continues to change; it is now more of a "shopping district" than a buzzing hive of art, but there are still galleries and now even a museum or two. Change happens. It's the spine of life.
San Francisco will change as the tech industry blows in, taking over some spaces once occupied by artists. . . and Oakland will begin to bloom as an arts center. It already is . . . And then, it will be deja vu all over again.
So, come on, boys, stop whining.