HOW THE CITY IS USING THE ARTS FOR DISPLACEMENT AND DEBLASIO’S HOUSING PLAN

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Below is how the cultural plan is described on the website. You can find this at www.createnyc.org

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The idea is that there is additional money for the smaller arts organizations in the outer boroughs, and that the city is collecting “input” for how it should be invested and distributed. This of course sets up these small organizations to compete with each other for these funds. Meanwhile the larger CIGs (larger institutions like The Met and Lincoln Center) create a bloc to make sure they insert their voice and their power, afraid that this might mean a redistribution of funds.

Gone from this conversation has been the issue of displacement and the dilemma the artist community is confronted with; Our role as the front line of gentrification; as tools for real estate development.

While this is a heated discussion occurring more frequently in the art world and in social justice circles, it is largely missing from the public discourse except for in those neighborhoods that see it first hand, i.e. Bushwick, and now the South Bronx. Inept city council representatives of New York have for the most part looked the other way when it comes to the arts being utilized for displacement since it is easy to hide behind “beautification initiatives.” They continue to ignore community concerns over displacement and gentrification, staying conveniently out of the crosshairs when it concerns community fights with private developers, even while DeBlasio continues to cut red tape and rezone neighborhoods to make way for this gross profit driven development.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s housing plan brings the city into the arena of profiting from gentrification as well, as it clears the way for a more affluent constituency and locks out a majority of poor and working class New Yorkers from real affordable housing in the middle of a housing crisis with its ridiculous and unrealistic average median income requirements. It is absolutely clear that the city intends to assist in the displacement of poor and working class communities even as it pretends to provide stop gap measures and band aids to appease and quiet down critics of this current administration.

DeBlasio is completing the work that Bloomberg began by applying the Richard Florida model used in the private sector Logo screenshotto recreate affluent cities, effectively hosting on the labor of the creative class. Our elected officials are increasingly pandering to the arts community. Artists are being coerced to support DeBlasio’s housing plan with promises of studio space and artist housing despite the fact that it has been unanimously rejected by poor and working class advocates wholesale. This pits artists directly against these communities who are on the frontlines of displacement. Once again, artists are being weaponized against the communities where they live and work.

The question then becomes, if the city is proceeding in such dishonest actions as undermining true affordable housing for New Yorkers while using its resources to assist the private real estate development industry in the displacement of poor and working class New Yorkers throughout the city. If we already have an understanding of the ways in which the arts are utilized in tandem with real estate development as a tactic to accelerate this displacement, then isn’t the unveiling of the NYC Cultural plan alongside DeBlasio’s Housing plan cause for alarm, not celebration?

What’s more alarming, is how this cultural plan is poised to manipulate smaller organizations, mostly organizations of color which exist on the fringes of funding and who have desperately needed it for decades in supporting the cultural plan. These organizations are mostly starved out of funding and the luxury of questioning how this money might affect the communities they serve puts them at risk of losing funding as retribution. Essentially, this places the Dept. of Cultural Affairs in a position to utilize these organizations as a defense of their plan by hiding the potential displacement of communities behind the benevolence of funding “the arts in poor and working class communities of color.”

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The Dept. of Cultural Affairs is led by the director Tom Finkelpearl (formerly the executive director of the Queens Museum) who appears to be working alongside Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer, who is council member for the 26th District of the New York City Council. Van Bramer is a Democrat and his district includes portions of Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Long Island City, Maspeth, Sunnyside and Woodside in Queens. It has yet to be determined why Van Bramer is so invested in the Cultural Plan, but his attendance of the Real Estate Summit held in Long Island City this past October was heavily protested by activists from Queens is Not for Sale. This, coupled with the recent announcement of the launching a three month artist residency at a luxury hotel in Long Island City by the Queens Council of the Arts provides some insight into his motivation, which seem to be real estate and gentrification for his borough.

Working in partnership with the DCA is the Hester Street Collaborative.

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“We picked Hester Street Collaborative for their combined expertise and think that the entire team is best able to carry out the cultural plan in equitable ways” –Tom Finkelpearl

Lets take a look at Hester Street Collaborative’s board of directors:

Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, Director, Office of Public Private Partnerships, New York City Housing Authority: Community fears about DeBlasio selling off NYCHA to private interests and displacing its residents only intensify when we see that NYCHA is on the board of directors of the firm charged with facilitating the cultural plan.

Joe Weisbord Director of Credit and Housing Access, Fannie Mae:
We are letting Fanny Mae, one of the firms responsible for the housing crisis and recession in 2008 have input in the cultural plan?

Jane Och (of the Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation):
New blood philanthropists Daniel Och is chairman and CEO of Och-Ziff Capital Management, a global hedge fund. Och pumps millions into zionist causes. Past local Och grants included $2 million to the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York, and $1 million to New York-based Birthright Israel Foundation. If the bulldozing and apartheid levied against the Palestinian people by the zionists is any indicator of what the Ochs are willing to support, then we know they wouldn’t bat an eye at the mass displacement of poor and working class New Yorkers of color.

Also sitting on the board is the Leroy Street Studio Architecture firm, which one might speculate stands to gain some big city contracts to build right on top of us all. It would be hard not to assume this because Morgan Hare, the co-founder of Hester Street Collective is also a partner at Leroy street Studio Architecture

Reggie Thomas, Government & Regulatory Advisor, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips:
A law firm.. to help them manage “government regulations” at the very least.

And to lead them all, is the board president Timothy Johnson, Head of Global Multi-Sector Fixed Income, Fischer Francis Trees and Watts, a global investment management firm … Wall St.

This is suppose to be a Cultural Plan reflecting the arts, yet the Board of Directors of Hester Street Collaborative charged to lead this initiative are representatives from NYCHA & Fannie Mae, (So this is directly connected to community housing and displacement concerns) an architectural firm, an investment management firm, a government & regulations lawyer and the Center for Popular Democracy, an arm of the non-profit conglomerate Make The Road, the local mouthpiece for the Democratic party with a large enough base (at least in Queens) that they could potentially mobilize should they need to show that they have “community support.”

If this is about the arts… then why aren’t there any cultural producers or thinkers at the helm of this plan?
Why is Hester Street Collaborative facilitating this process? An organization that is essentially guided by a real estate collaboration between NYCHA and Fannie Mae, Wall street investors, their lawyer, an architectural firm, and the local Democratic party machine?

Sounds like this is yet another attempt of utilizing the arts for private real estate development and further displacement of poor and working class New Yorkers.

DCLA FACT SHEET

DCLA – the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the largest arts funder in the U.S., distributing at least $330M annually http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/html/home/home.shtml. According to the CUNY ISLG Equality Indicators study, its funding is among the most inequitably distributed of public services in the entire city, scoring 10 out of a possible 100 (http://equalityindicators.org/services/#artsculturetopic). At least 77% of its funding goes to just 33 out of the 1000 organizations funded; the per capita spending in Manhattan is 10 times the per capita spending in Queens ($45.88 vs. $4.58); funding to just the MET and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) alone amounts to more than the funding to the bottom 900 organizations combined, through the Cultural Development Fund (CDF)

CIG – the Cultural Institutions Group, 33 cultural institutions on city-owned property across the 5 boroughs. Ranging from the largest in the city, the MET, Lincoln Center, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, to smaller ones in outer boroughs, such as the Staten Island Museum & the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, all 33 have the benefit of baselined operating support in NYC’s budget. The relationship with the city dates back to 1869 with the founding of AMNH, is enshrined in the City Charter (e.g. the inclusion of the President of the MET on the NYC Design Commission). These organizations collectively raise a few billion dollars of private funds annually toward operations and capital projects (such as the $100M David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center), and the board members and donors of the largest are among the wealthiest people on the planet, such as David H. Koch & Michael Bloomberg. Half of the CIG have staff from the DC37 Union of municipal employees; all CIG staff can participate in the city’s retirement plan.

NYC Cultural Plan (http://createnyc.org/en/home/) – introduced by NYC Council Members Steven Levin and Jimmy Van Bramer in 2014, the legislation (Int. 419-A) passed (against some opposition from the DCLA) in June 2015, requiring the DCLA to submit a cultural plan by July 2017. The legislation’s original stated intent was to plan for gaps in cultural service. In October 2016 (more than 16 months into the time period), DCLA announced that it had hired consultants to produce the plan, and that there would be several months of public feedback before a draft plan would be released in March 2017. Consultants retained include: Hester Street Collaborative (Lead), NOCD-NY, and two real estate development firms: James Lima Planning & Development (http://jameslimadevelopment.com/) who worked on the expansion of the Brooklyn Cultural District around BAM, and BJH Advisors (http://www.bjhadvisors.com/), one of whose major clients is the BQX Connector project. Questions for public feedback have included: “What arts or cultural events have you been to that moved you?” and “How do you find out about NYC arts & cultural events?”

CEG – the Cultural Equity Group, a coalition of small cultural organizations led by people of color that have opposed the inequities in NYC funding, and the lack of representation of people of color at major institutions, for decades.

One Percent for Culture(http://www.oneforculture.org/) a coalition of several hundred orgs calling for 1% of the NYC budget toward culture, formed in 2013/14, and funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

Cultural Agenda Fund (CAF) – a collaborative of private foundations led by the New York Community Trust and including the Booth Ferris Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Lambent Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and David Rockefeller Fund. The CAF is currently funding community organizing around the cultural plan by 10 organizations, it funded research by the Social Impact of the Arts Project that is contributing to the plan, and has funded projects pertaining to cultural equity.

Citizen’s Advisory Committee [*CIG reps, 5 out of 22 total]

Chair: Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, Program Director, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Mayoral Appointees: Tino Gagliardi, President of Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802; Karen Brooks Hopkins*, Senior Fellow in Residence, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Eric Pryor, President, Harlem School of the Arts; former Director, Center for Arts Education; Sandra Jackson Dumont, Chair, Education Department, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Miguel Luciano, Artist, Resident Artist at PS 109; Joanna Haigood, Choreographer, Dancing in the Streets; Arnold Lehman*, Former Director, Brooklyn Museum; Tattfoo Tan, Artist

Speaker’s Appointees: Catherine A. Green, Executive Director/Founder, ARTs East New York Inc.; Daisy Rodriguez*, Director of Government Affairs, American Museum of Natural History; Adam Huttler, Founder and Executive Director, Fractured Atlas; Rosalba Rolón, Co-founder and Artistic Director, Pregones Theater; Gianna P. Cerbone-Teoli, Executive Chef/Owner, Manducatis Rustica; Tia Powell Harris, President and Executive Director, Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC); Kenneth Tabachnick, Senior Associate, AEA Consulting; Kenneth Pietrobono, Artist

Borough President Appointees: John Calvelli*, EVP, Public Affairs, The Wildlife Conservation Society; Jennifer Walden-Weprin, Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Queens; Myrah Brown Greene, Arts Consultant and Independent Curator; Amanda Straniere*, Community Campaign Coordinator, Staten Island Museum; Verdery Roosevelt, Senior Vice President, Program & Nonprofit Investments, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone

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Bulldozers & Crain’s

Given the state of affairs in the Bronx regarding art and real estate, an article such as the one published in Crain’s New York with the title “Bye Bye Bushwick: The Bronx is the City’s Next New Art Scene,” is not surprising. The fact that her artists aren’t considered on the pages of Art News or any other publication dedicated to discussing cultural production and instead are relegated to a discussion about “up-and-coming-neighborhoods” reveals the precarious nature The Bronx currently finds herself in. In the X, the pre-existing arts communities at this moment in time, are only considered through the lens of real estate speculation and this will not change unless we collectively refuse to allow our work to be positioned in this context. A critique of the market, and its abusive exploitation of art and artists as real estate pawns is imperative, and it is desperately missing in this borough.

Any interest from a publication such as Crain’s, or the audience it attracts is based only in self-interest, motivated by potential profits. The failure of Bronx artists to recognize this blatant fact is at our own peril. These entities come to The Bronx to probe the inner workings of the local art scene only to parade local artists and art institutions around as décor; Cultural cache in a real estate advertisement. If this publication or this author cared to value anything about the arts in the Bronx, then they would have carved in content that lays bare its history. They would have highlight the artwork being produced by artists there and written about the projects produced throughout the years by local institutions. But that is not the goal. The article only asks us to consider the art and artists insofar as it adds cultural value to the land and property of the Bronx making it ripe for investments and profits. The artists and their fledgling institutions and non-profits are expendable. And yet, this fact seems to escape local artists and arts institutions, who eager for attention and validation, foolishly and selfishly offer testimonials to the article which amounts to the statement, “Yes, we have a burgeoning art scene here! We too are worthy of displacement!” It is worth noting that not all of these institutions and artists understand the scope of this mistake. As I am sure this author and this publication means to shape a certain position, and many artists and institutional figures quoted in the article are refuting the statements made in the article. But there are a select few who are unable to see past their ambition. Who believe that rolling out the red carpet for developers and gentrification will somehow land them a winning lottery ticket. They gamble with the lives of the community. They fail to realize that the streets of Bushwick are not paved in gold. They are covered in street art and graffiti. By artists who are not from Bushwick because those artists along with their families can no longer afford to live there. One does not have to look far to confirm this. Visit any of the homeless shelters in the Bronx and there you will find the residents of Old Bushwick, Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, etc. In New Bushwick, you cannot sense their missing bodies because the street art and graffiti silences their displacement in a virtual happy land of aesthetics. Street art camouflages this crime.

In essence, the Crain’s article behaves like an infomercial, which utilizes the local art scene in the Bronx as a selling point for its readers. The tone of the article wants to convey to its readers that it’s okay to buy property in the Bronx because the artists have paved the way. Its okay to evict that bodega and offer the lease to the coffee boutique at double the price. You will have an audience. The local Bronx artists and college students have expensive taste and they will keep you afloat until the good tenants arrive.

The ideology behind this article is sort of an old trick that somehow keeps working. The old Richard Florida concept of relying on the creative class for “urban regeneration.” The author is aware of this as she is writing. It is the reason why art and real estate are always in the same sentence these days. What’s less obvious is her citing of the increase of college-educated people living in the Bronx today. The author credits this to students from Richard Florida’s alma mater, Columbia University. It couldn’t just be that we are seeing higher levels of poor and working class Black and Latino kids going off to college. It must be those Columbia students moving into Mott Haven because “it is all the rage.” I’m sure the author is aware of the detrimental effect the expansion of universities are having on poor working class communities in major cities throughout the world. The studentification of neighborhoods is often overlooked as slumlords evict long-term tenants to chop up a two-bedroom apartment into a four bedroom dorm in order to collect triple the amount of ivy league dollars. Interested parties reading the article who turn their gaze towards the Bronx might consider building dorms where a community garden once stood. Political sophists, poverty pimps and fat cat economic development corporations would only be too happy to cut the red tape, rezone our communities away and line their pockets.

Still the question remains, if the Bronx is indeed the last borough standing against being gentrified over, then where will the people collectively go if these readers decide to heed the advice provided by The Crain’s article? We might consider the Eastchester Garden raids as an answer to this question. When on an early April morning, the FBI, ICE, DEA, ATF, and Homeland Security joined forces with 700 NYPD cops to raid and remove 120 young men from a community overnight. These boys were painted as vicious gang members and paraded through the media as such. Still, the charges against these boys remain vague and live in the realm of conspiracy via the RICO act, which gives license to the feds to pin anything on them for liking a comment on Facebook allegedly. Criminalization of the youth is an aggressive tactic that comes hand in hand with gentrification. Consider also that these boys reside in NYCHA, who has been attempting to sell off portions of itself to private interests for years. However, the picture doesn’t completely come into focus until you learn that their arrests could mean eviction for their 120 families since having a criminal case in public housing is forbidden.

The people of the Bronx have lived through many plagues. The draining of resources as a result of Robert Moses and white flight, the massive loss of manufacturing jobs as a result of deindustrialization, the psychological effects of Vietnam and the murder and framing of black and Puerto Rican leaders, the heroin, followed by the crack epidemic and the drug war, the Rockefeller laws, the AIDS crisis, all of this while slumlords burned the Bronx down to the ground for insurance money. The people of the X are a resilient people. They are survivors who in the midst of all of this despair, still managed to give birth to one of the greatest avant-garde art forms of our time, Hip Hop. But, can they survive another plague? Especially one that is disguised as revitalization, smells like fresh brewed coffee, and bares the smile of cool artists and harmless college kids? Will they see the coming bulldozers and the 700 cops marching behind it?

The answer lies with the artists and art institutions. If Bronx artists and arts institutions continue to court developers and real estate publications such as Crain’s, the Bronx will fall to gentrification. This is true for the Bronx, but it is also true for all of New York City and every enclave that houses artists and students throughout the world. The tension between developers, artists, and poor and working class communities has reached a boiling point and must be addressed. Artists find themselves in a unique historical position. The spread of gentrification on a global scale lands squarely on our shoulders. Real estate developers and their wealthy clientele follow the artists around like shadows, waiting for us to plant down roots and to create new Bohemias in order for them to extract it. They mine our creativity like coal. This trap they have set for us manifests itself in many ways. As empty white spaces in “up and coming neighborhoods” where we are encouraged to build our studios or show our work in. It appears as fully renovated kitchens straight out of an IKEA catalog in a dilapidated building, or it appears as invitations by complicit art institutions to participate in colonizing pop up shows in newly constructed real estate. Everything about this formula hinges on the quiet complicity of the artists. But if the artists collectively decide to loudly denounce this role, to shun developers and art institutions that utilize these practices and to stand with the communities we live and work in, this trend we seem to be on the front line of will not continue. Artists possess the ability to stop this destructive speculation and to turn the tide right now. As cultural producers we must shift the culture away from this passive acceptance of unfettered speculation in our hoods and in hoods and barrios everywhere. Ultimately, as artists, we are concerned with space, be it the illusion of space in painting, or the way a sculpture or performance occupies space, or in the cadence of music or the recital of a poem. Perhaps its time for us to turn our gaze towards the disappearance of physical space on our lives and in society and to question the neoliberal forces at play, which terrorize us all.