One day, I will write a huge article about this, as it’s a topic I find myself coming back to over and over. It seems to be in style to hate on New York these days – there was recently an article in The Onion which a lot of people “related” to about how shitty New York is. Today, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook about how artists are fleeing the city because New York has gotten so expensive. While I recognize that the city being expensive is a problem for artists – hellooooo! I AM one! – I found myself getting angry at the article. However, it probably has more to do with me being a native New Yorker than anything else.
It annoys me when artists talk about New York that way, as if they’re not the ones who cause the problem! Having a great arts scene is one of the things that make a city expensive. It makes people want to move there, which gentrifies the area, which ups its value. It’s like, great, move somewhere else – and in 50 years, when that new place is artistically relevant, it too will become more expensive and force its artists out. That’s how it works, and it kind of makes me laugh that people get so shocked about it.
So the interest isn’t really in creating a strong artistic “community”, it’s in getting what the individual artist needs while the getting is good, then leaving, which I think is sad. It also turns New York City into a dumping ground for people’s discarded hopes and dreams. Dammit, artists – pick up after yourselves and stop trashing my town!
“New York is so expensive!” – It’s expensive, because everyone wants to be here, and that drives up prices. There’s a reason why everyone wants to be here. The reasons why artists have always come to New York in droves is because it’s a city on a coast that has access to the ocean and is away from the pressure cooker of narrow-mindedness that is the middle of the United States. It started as, and still is, a port city that is often a first stop for immigrants, which gives the entire place a vibe and a cultural energy you won’t find anywhere else. Artists want to be here, because artists need diversity. They need an influx of new ideologies and cultures to keep their ideas fresh, and New York has a history of providing that in buckets. But all those artists moving here in droves is going to make the city expensive. That’s how the economy works (especially in a country where government funding for the arts is minimal…but that’s another blog post).
“New York is too busy/crowded/dirty, and everyone is so hostile!” – most of the friends I’ve made since college have been transplants from someplace or other. All of them here to follow some kind of big dream. Constant influx of people = busy and crowded. This isn’t rocket science. The part about New Yorkers being “mean” or “hostile” I genuinely believe is caused by there being so many people in the city with so many different ways of being bumping up against each other all the time – ie: it’s the fault of transplants. Thing is, to a native New Yorker, this bumping up of different people is something we’re used to. It’s how we grew up. So, generally, native New Yorkers could care less if you’re different for whatever reason. Native New Yorkers generally don’t care what clothes you wear, or how much money you make, or what your beliefs are. You know who’s primarily responsible for the focus on image? Transplants. Transplants who watched stuff like Sex and the City, and think that’s what New York is supposed to be like. But remember – Carrie Bradshaw? Not a native New Yorker. For all her love of it, she too was a transplant. And the “hostility” in New York? I think that comes from people who think that New York is this magical place that will make all their dreams come true for them. They forget that here, just like anywhere else, dreams have to be worked for, and that work is hard. New York isn’t magical, but it DOES have some great ingredients for a fantastic artistic life if you know how to use them. It’s very easy to get hostile when you come to New York for a few years and realize that an arts career isn’t just going to fall in your lap. If moving to another city helps you, fine, but if you want your art to reach past the people in one city, you have to be prepared to deal with hardship.
One thing I DO love about NYC natives is their directness. We generally mean what we say and say what we mean, and I think that’s a product of growing up in a place where there is so much diversity. There are too many differences flying around to waste time with bullshit. If we try to go around sparing everyone’s feelings in all the diferent ways that sparing would be required to happen, we’d never get anything done. But directness does not equal rudeness. And if as an artist you can’t handle people being straight with you, I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to get very far. Art isn’t just about creating what you want in an incubator, it’s about sharing it with the world. And the world is a varied, sometimes scary, always exhilirating place. New York provides you with a taste of that.
It bothers me when transplants who come here to make art trash talk New York for being expensive, or crowded, or dirty, when it’s people coming here in droves from all over imagining a picture-perfect postcard version of NYC in which they can follow their dreams who make it that way in the first place.
New York is my home and it’s home to a lot of people. People raise families here. People live lives here. It’s not a postcard, and it’s not magical. It’s not going to do for you what you can’t do for yourself. It’s not going to coddle you, and it’s not going to hand you an arts career on a silver platter. But if you let it, it can be a welcoming friend; the one who knows everyone, grabs you by the hand, and drags you breathless to all the parties. The one who gets you to try things you never would’ve tried at home, because here you can be whoever you want to be without judgement. The one who shows you the beauty in unexpected places. If you let it, it can become your home, too.