The description I'm going for is probably "pre-gentrified"
August 5, 2011 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me find the new Greenwich Village/San Francisco/artist community that hasn't been gentrified yet. Do artist communities exist now that the Internet has taken over all other forms of communication?

I live in the cultural wasteland that is South Orange County, California. I would really like to move out of California. Is NYC still The Place Where Artists Must Live? Or is it past its prime? The New York Times tells me Detroit is undergoing a renaissance.

I'm a photographer and writer, 23 years old. What I really need is a community, other people to talk to and make art with; a place with tons of galleries and arts events, book readings, and a general atmosphere of creativity. Somewhere that is relatively cheap to live and has job opportunities for someone with a scatter-shot job/colleges attended history.

Where is the most interesting art coming from? For editors, where is the best literary work being submitted from? It can be a school since I'm looking into applying to art schools.

I know the standard answers: Portland ("Portland is where young people go to retire"), NYC.... Where else?
posted by book 'em dano to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is NYC still The Place Where Artists Must Live? Or is it past its prime?

You've got about ten minutes left before realtors stop advertising Bushwick as "East Williamsburg."
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is NYC still The Place Where Artists Must Live?

posted by mattbucher at 11:05 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Upon re-reading it, I just realized what I wrote might not make any sense to you. Basically, if you want to be involved in the arts community in NYC, move to Bushwick and be prepared to move.
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Parts of the SOMA in San Francisco would seem to match your criteria.

I'd also consider moving to a smaller city. I spent a summer in Omaha and really dug the art and literary scenes there.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:25 AM on August 5, 2011

I recommend this book: Who's Your City? by Richard Florida.

Florida makes the case that location is as relevant as ever. Who's Your City? is a counterpoint to Thomas Friedman's thesis that "The World is Flat"; Florida says "the world is spiky." Nashville is as much a center of country music as it's ever been, etc. The internet hasn't eliminated real life. People still care about doing stuff with each other in person. Sure the internet now allows people to write and record songs without being in the same city, but it still works better if the people doing it are in the same room. (Holographic performers do exist, but as of yet they seem to be just a novelty — not what most people have in mind when they say they're up for some "live music.")

Florida also gives a framework for thinking about these questions for your own life, including tons of lists that rank cities on different criteria and for different kinds of people (straight, gay, old, young, single, families). His website has "find your city" test.

The fact that the kinds of neighborhoods you describe become gentrified doesn't undermine these observations. Of course they get gentrified as people find out about how cool they are. That isn't a scourge; it's a completely predictable economic process. There's no reason we should expect to preserve a location in some perfect balance between hip creativity and semi-obscurity. The idea that something magical in Greenwich Village was tragically lost is a myth.
posted by John Cohen at 11:43 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in applying to art schools in cheap places to live with vibrant arts communities, you might do well to look into the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. It's a great art school, with cool, well-connected professors, and it's really close to several of the city's best arts communities (and just a car ride from the burgeoning arts/music communities in South City's Cherokee and Benton Park neighborhoods). Of course, St. Louis, like Detroit, is a car city, so to get the most from it, you'll need a car—but given that you live in Orange County, I'm guessing you probably already have one, neh?
posted by limeonaire at 11:43 AM on August 5, 2011

You said you wanted out of California, but there are all sorts of "pre-gentrified" areas of LA where artists are doing their thing with the cheap rent and ample space.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:54 AM on August 5, 2011

I'm a professional artist (advertising; make of that what you like), who lives in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. There is a booming art community in my neighborhood; art openings constantly, art galleries everywhere, more street art than you can shake a stick at, massive scene of both professional and itinerant artists all over the place. I've heard that the Tenderloin is becoming gentrified, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly where this is happening - I still get woken up at 3 am by schizophrenic transvestites screaming at phantoms, my neighbor got tazed coming in the front door the other day, I regularly step over used needles and human poop on my way to work, and I get pestered for change by hobos more often in a given day than I urinate. That said, my neighborhood is an staggering amalgam of art, food, filth, open space, hidden architecture, repulsive characters and good neighbors. It's never dull, and that's why I live here.

And all that said, I still get the feeling that New York is where an artist would go to 'make it', as such. Every city is going to have it's strata of inspiration and success however, and it really depends on what 'making it' means to you.

If you like New York, go there. It can be a hard place to be, but many, many people wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Personally, I would never want to live in New York; even visiting that city makes me feel haggard. Then again, I'm old and not prepared to scramble the way one must to climb the ladder in such a competitive environment (i.e., you won't be the only young and talented artist moving to New York to 'make it').

Lastly, I've never lived anywhere that didn't have some sort of pretty interesting art scene going on, but I've always had to dig to find it.

LASTY, lasty - I used to live in Orange County too, Laguna Hills in fact. It was the blandest, most uninteresting place I've ever been. Good on you for having the sense to get the fuck out of there. And good luck, wherever you go.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

HA, Pecinpah, I live in Laguna Hills. Went to elementary/middle/high school here, and I'm living at home again after long unemployment in San Diego. So yes, I want to gtfo as soon as possible.

Thank you to everyone else! You've all given me a lot to think about.
posted by book 'em dano at 1:22 PM on August 5, 2011

Success in NYC is also a particular kind of success, and I know a few artists who have been successful elsewhere first, honed their game as it were, before moving to the city. There are also 'mafias' of the various art school grads, Yale, Cal-Arts, etc. These are the to be underestimated - they won't ruin your plans, but there is a kind of nepotism at work there.

Visit, I think is the key - Detroit might be good for you, but NY might be better, or somewhere in LA might be best. You know it when you get there, and then you don't want to leave.
Good Luck!
posted by From Bklyn at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oakland, CA. I know it's still in-state but it's a whole different world from where you are. There's a pretty thriving gallery scene for a small city. Tons of people your age are doing interesting things. There's some minor gentrification, but Oakland's challenges and reputation are so entrenched that it's going to be a few decades before there's any serious danger of it going the way of a Brooklyn or a Portland or SF's Mission. Perfect place for gritty, artsy young hipsters.
posted by quarterframer at 3:37 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry, THIS was the page I intended to link to.
posted by quarterframer at 3:41 PM on August 5, 2011

Grad school for art is becoming a near requirement these days (although, of course, there are always exceptions). If an MFA is in your future, I think you're wise to consider where you might like to set up shop afterwards before deciding where you'd like to go to school. Graduates tend to migrate in predictable routes. Yalies seem to move to the city, as do RISD grads and others in the radius of the big apple; the LA consortium seems to stay put; Chicago grads radiate around that midwestern city, etc.

It is true that NYC is still the center of the (commercial / gallery) fine art world. Artists can and do make a living there, although it's often a difficult, hard-won living. There are simply more opportunities to support artists in NYC. There's no doubt that LA is great place to live as a working artist, there just isn't the for-profit gallery infrastructure in place to support a large community.

That said, there are some great, inexpensive places to live within striking distance of NYC where artists thrive: Philadelphia, Providence, etc. Taking the train in on a regular basis can do almost as much for you career-wise as living there. Actually, if you're serious about it, you can live just about anywhere as long as you are willing to regularly travel to wherever the opportunities are: whether that's NYC or Berlin or Abu Dhabi.

But if you think there's a chance you might want to end up back on the west coast -- go to grad school in SF or LA. The primary reason people migrate in these patterns is because of networking. Grad school is, in part, about establishing those connections that will help you develop and maintain a career as an artist. I've got one friend in particular who graduated from a prestigious program in LA and then moved right away to NYC. It was like completely starting from scratch. Something to consider.
posted by mmmcmmm at 3:45 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

A couple thoughts:

It depends on your art. If you're a writer, location matters less. Find a strong mentor and Iowa City is good as New York, and maybe even better, since you won't have to work sixty hours to pay your bills. If you're a filmmaker or a visual artist, it's a different story. You need strong collaborators. So get to New York and start hustling.

Anyway, you're only twenty-three. That's young. Spend as much time now on your craft. Eat beans. Get good advice. Do this for two years. When you're twenty-five, start putting yourself in front of people who can help (a la New York). But the priority now is the work.

And check out Berlin. Actually, this might be my response to your question. It's very, very happening. And dirt cheap.
posted by vecchio at 5:13 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lotsa artists live in Oakland. It's cheap as hell, and there's a great art scene in the Bay area. I've even heard about collectives where artists can live for like dirt cheap and share a big old warehouse loft with a buncha other artists.

Check out the Oakland Art Murmur and see how you like the vibe.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:07 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, there are two great art schools in SF, SFAI and CCA. I have friends who go to both.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:09 PM on August 5, 2011

A note about Berlin: It is very happening and cheap and, frankly pretty fucking great in a lot of ways. But it is a foreign country. No matter how much people tell you, "everyone speaks English" not everyone does (your landlord, various bureaucrats) and they aren't charmed by your not speaking German. Also the gallery infrastructure is not as developed as in NYC or Paris or London. But if you think (and I mean if the even if the idea strikes you as even a little bit cool and interesting and possible) living in Europe would be good you should come check it out. But it is far from Orange County - and more than just geographically.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:34 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

At the moment, the current focus on contemporary artists are the ones coming from Berlin, Los Angeles and Beijing.

LA is where all the prestigious art schools are clustered like CalArts, Otis, and Art Center, not to mention the art departments at universities like UCLA, UCI, UCR. It seems to be THE american city "of the moment" in terms of the art scene and the number of artists that finds success on an international scale. There was some controversy a few years back about the feeding frenzy taking place in LA where dealers were signing up students from the schools and the effect it has on their development as an artist. But the "scene" seems to be thriving in LA. I think it helps that real estate is still relatively inexpensive in LA.

NYC is becoming more and more focuses on the business of art, rather than a place for artists to live. But it will always be a place where artists gravitate. Much like London. Paris, not so much.

For photography, I think NYC is still the place to go.
posted by savvysearch at 3:26 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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