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New York's non-profits face homelessness

Some of Manhattan's long-standing art spaces are being pushed out by luxury developments

As the Whitney Museum of American Art returns to downtown Manhattan, non-profit art spaces that have been in the neighbourhood or nearby since the 1970s are being priced out.

Matthew Higgs, the director of White Columns in Chelsea, which has a booth at Frieze New York (A15), says: “The cost of operating in New York is becoming increasingly and prohibitively expensive.” The space, which was founded in 1970 by the artists Gordon Matta-Clark and Jeffrey Lew, has a lease that expires in 2018.

Handed to developers “It seems the city of New York has completely handed over Manhattan to developers,” says Stefan Kalmár, the director of another non-profit, Artists Space, which was founded in 1972. “We have always been a downtown organisation, and it would be great to remain here.” Realistically he expects to move out of SoHo when its lease runs out in 2019.

Since the 1970s Artists Space has nurtured the careers of artists such as Adrian Piper (Elizabeth Dee, C36), Hito Steyerl (Andrew Kreps, B57) and Laurie Simmons (Salon 94, B52). Danh Vō (Marian Goodman, C10) has curated a collateral exhibition at the Venice Bienniale and had a solo show there in 2010, and the gallery organised one of the first exhibitions to embrace the topic of HIV/Aids, Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing (1989).

The non-profit’s home since 1993 has been 38 Greene Street; the five-story, 19th-century building may close temporarily in the autumn as the landlord, Zar Property NY, plans to put a luxury condo on the roof. New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the penthouse the green light in January. 

White Columns, Artists Space and other New York-based non-profits are lobbying city officials for rent protection. The umbrella group Common Practice New York, which was founded in 2012, includes non-profits Printed Matter and The Kitchen, which are both in Chelsea; Participant Inc, which is in the Lower East Side; and Brooklyn’s Triple Canopy. They have been meeting with city officials, including Tom Finkelpearl, New York’s cultural affairs commissioner and the former director of Queens Museum, since last October. 

Several arts organisations have have already moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn—Franklin Furnace, formed in 1976 by artist Martha Wilson (represented by P.P.O.W, C44), among them. “When I asked the board, they said yes, we should move to Brooklyn; the artists had already moved there,” says Wilson. Franklin Furnace sold its Tribeca storefront in 1996 and is now located at Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus.

But no place is safe from developers’ deep pockets. “Rents in many parts of Brooklyn, Queens and beyond now match those of Manhattan,” says Chrissie Iles, a curator at the Whitney. “The issue is not one of geography but of affordability—an urgent question that also applies to artists’ studios and living spaces.”

Condo crazy Manhattan is experiencing phenomenal growth in the luxury housing development sector, with prices that will “undeniably go down in history”, according to a recent report by real-estate research group Compass. The median closing price for new developments was $1.93m at the end of 2014—an increase of 23.8% on the previous quarter. The report predicts that developers will focus their energy on building multi-million-dollar developments.

One non-profit has managed to stay in Manhattan amid the flurry of luxury condo development. Max Schumann, the acting executive director of Printed Matter, which has a Chelsea storefront and organises artists’ book fairs in New York and Los Angeles, says: “It took two years of exploring all types of options in all parts of the city” before finding an appropriate space. When its lease expires in August 2015, it will move from 10th Avenue to 11th Avenue. Printed Matter has raised approximately 40% of the $850,000 capital campaign necessary for its new space. The rent will, however, be higher.