Friday, January 11, 2008

Bushwick Emerges As City’s Next Artist Colony

Below is another story out of Bushwick to share on this rainy Friday morning from Jefferson Street. The neighborhood has certainly changed dramatically since I moved here from New Hampshire in July 2004. The influx of artists into the once-crime ridden swath of North Brooklyn is indicative of that change. Problems -- a surge in street crime, a lack of quality housing and gentrification itself -- remain issues about which locals and some so-called carpetbaggers are concerned. The neighborhood itself continues to change despite all of them. Stay tuned...

Bushwick sculptor Kim Holleman considers herself something of a pioneer. The Florida native moved into the once crime-ridden North Brooklyn neighborhood in 2000. She said the area’s large Puerto Rican population initially attracted her to Bushwick. Holleman added her neighbor’s laid-back attitude towards her and her work have enhanced her art.

"I can do what I want in my space," she told EDGE in a recent interview. "If I need to drive my truck onto the sidewalk to unload lumber, I can do that."

Holleman is one of a number of artists from across the city and beyond who have flocked to Bushwick in recent years as hipsters on 10-speeds, collegiate skateboarders in Maria Hernandez Park and expansive thrift shops have appeared among mom-and-pop bodegas, auto body shops and local teenagers playing handball. These new residents frequently point to the abundance of former warehouses and factories
converted into studio and performance spaces; the neighborhood’s relative affordability compared to neighboring Williamsburg and Manhattan; its proximity to the city via the L and JMZ subway lines and a creative energy they contend exists only in Bushwick. These factors have incubated one of the city’s newest and arguably most vibrant artist enclaves.

Writer and blogger Hrag Vartanian has seen this transformation first hand. He moved into a loft on the corner of Willoughby Street and Wilson Avenue in the heart of Bushwick in June 2000. Vartanian, who is the communications director for a Midtown non-profit, affectionately described Bushwick as East Berlin when he first moved into the neighborhood. He maintains the isolation (compared to Manhattan) and even an abundance of natural light in his loft remain two of Bushwick’s many draws.

"It definitely felt remote," Vartanian said. "I wanted that for myself and for my writing."

Sculptor Paul Oestreicher stumbled upon his studio in an old knitting factory on Grattan Avenue in early 2006. He pays $1,125 a month for an 850 square feet space. Oestreicher’s previous studios were on Lorimer Street and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. He noted other artists have followed him southeast on the Hipster Highway since he moved in two years ago.

"I’m looking out my window when I’m in there and see building after building becoming artist’s studios," Oestreicher said. "It’s really neat because I see an artist’s enclave starting up here."

Stephen Brock, a barista Wyckoff-Starr, a coffee shop on Wyckoff Avenue that opened in the fall of 2005, agreed. He moved to nearby Troutman Street from his native Cambridge, Mass., a year ago. Brock initially described Bushwick as barren but quickly took note of the artists from around the world drawn to Bushwick as opposed to nearby Williamsburg, Park Slope and other one-time Brooklyn artist havens.

"People from Europe and South America come here to find their own corner of New York tucked away from everything else," Brock said. "It feels like a different world."

Once symbolic of the urban decay that categorized wide swaths of North and Central Brooklyn during the 1960s and 1970s, Bushwick has begun to re-emerge from decades of spiraling crime and blight. The Bushwick Starr, a full-scale performance venue on Starr Street, opened in 2001 while Chez Bushwick opened on Boerum Street a year later. The 20,000 square foot workspace and studio 3rd Ward on Morgan Avenue is another of the various artists’ venues that dot the Bushwick landscape. But some remain wary of the prospect of crime in the once-troubled neighborhood.

New York Magazine published the account of a former Bushwick artist who was violently attacked inside the Morgan Avenue subway station. And an unknown assailant mugged this writer near his Jefferson Street apartment in July 2006.

North Brooklyn claims the city’s highest crime rate despite historically low statistics across the five boroughs. Increased gang activity in Bushwick and surrounding neighborhoods has almost certainly contributed to this recent spike. Brock concedes crime may discourage some artists who may want to move into the neighborhood. He added, however, others may feel attracted to an area, such as Bushwick, that has yet to undergo significant gentrification.

"There’s a kind of romantic feeling in a place that’s in the early stages of development," Brock said.

It is the very thought of gentrification about which Holleman worries most. She described the current influx of sculptors, painters, musicians and others into the neighborhood as Bushwick’s second wave of artists.

"These aren’t the real people who altered the spaces and made the community what it is," Holleman said.

She added she wants Bushwick to maintain its own identity.

"I don’t want the original community that was here to ever go away," Holleman said. "I don’t want to homogenize anything."

4 comments:

Sam J. Miller said...

Bushwick "has yet to undergo significant gentrification," that's cute. So... there's really nothing wrong, there are no consequences to the new folks moving in, even as rents start to rise and Bushwick sends more and more families into the homeless shelter system? (as in this study commissioned by the city:
www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/downloads/pdf/VERA%20Study.pdf)

I also like Bushwick described as "a place that's in the early stages of development," like there was nothing there before, and a marvelous new (white, middle-class) community is being "developed" out of the desert.

I bet there's a fascinating article to be written about the role blogs play in colonizing new neighborhoods, building up the hipness factor and ultimately accelerating displacement.

kazembe said...

This article is so sad, I feel a sense of remorse spending a couple minutes responding to it. But, a certain silence envelopes in talking about gentrification. Sam is right, the mentality of white middle class people is looking for the next big thing, while families are losing their homes.
More so, communities like Bushwick, Harlem, Central Brooklyn had their own flavor before losing it to the face of middle calss folks.
Ugh, you give gay people a bad name!

Anonymous said...

It's called a free market system. Human communities just like natural ones are not static and are in a constant state of change.
Chaos theory anyone?

Anonymous said...

Unlike many other communities (ie. Bedstuy, Williamsburg, Clinton Hill--which have/are all changing dramatically due to gentrification) Morgantown area was originally mostly factories (M1 buildings) and therefore the only thing displaced were those businesses. There are far less individuals being moved out due to high rents as there are businesses profiting from selling previously cheap buildings to opt for more cheap neighborhoods (ie. Sunset Park). I'm not saying some people are not affected, but it is FAR less than people think.

Regardless, gentrification will happen to much of brooklyn and hipsters will do what they do. Its a tough reality.