One Of The Biggest Challenges New York Artists Face Is Affording Supplies

To make it as an artist in New York City, you’ll need resilience, passion and a singular creative vision. Oh, and supplies. You’ll probably need some supplies. 

While art supplies are the literal building blocks of many artists’ work, tools like paint, brushes, canvases, paper and clay are becoming harder to afford, especially in a city already as pricey as NYC. A recent report published by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) found that 40 percent of New York artists cannot afford art supplies, whatever they may be.

New York has long been mythologized as a home for established and emerging artists, a cultural hotbed that attracts and welcomes creatives from around the country and beyond. Yet due to the high costs of rent, food and pretty much everything else in the city ― not to mention the crippling weight of student loan debt ― young artists are largely unable to afford the materials they need to make work.

This sad statistic falls in line with much of the DCA’s findings, which depict an art world that primarily caters to and is made available to high-income earners. 

“Many low-income community members don’t feel empowered to engage in the variety of arts and culture opportunities in NYC,” one Queens public housing resident is quoted as saying in the report. “More needs to be done to bring the arts to low-income communities, and in bringing low-income community members to prestigious arts and culture institutions.” 

What can be done to ensure that art is a viable career choice for young people without a trust fund? The availability of cheaper rent for apartments and studio spaces seems to be a good starting point. According to the DCA, 90 percent of art and culture workers requested more affordable spaces to live and make work. 

As the report cites, there are approximately 250,000 arts and culture workers currently in NYC, 64 percent of whom moved to the city to pursue professional opportunities in the arts. The annual economic impact of the cultural sector overall is, according to the report, around $130 billion. 

In total, the DCA reached out to 180,000 New Yorkers between September 2016 and April 2017, polling culturally active individuals including artists, teachers, students, leaders of arts organizations and union members both in person and online. The overwhelming conclusion communicated by participants was a broader need for public and accessible arts programming and education spread throughout the five boroughs, especially in under-served and under-represented neighborhoods, ensuring art is indeed for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The DCA is accepting feedback on this report and issues related to it until May 31. “CreateNYC: What We Heard” events will also be held across the city.

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