“The panicked artists called a meeting. The idea was floated that perhaps they could collectively purchase the building,” reported WBUR’s Amelia Mason earlier this week. The struggling artist is a character that lives on in cultural imaginations all across the world. But as cities — often the best places for artists to collaborate and find work — become increasingly expensive, even artists who have carved out a space for themselves are having trouble securing studio space.
Artists in the United States have flocked to the country’s cultural centers for centuries. But Mason added, “Artists are often the harbingers of gentrification, drawn to run-down industrial areas by the cheap rent and lax oversight. They help make the neighborhood trendy… which raises rents, until the original artists and residents are priced out.” This issue is multifaceted, as where artists can comfortably live and work is often impacted by issues like race and class.
In her reporting, Mason explained that the idea of using art to improve neighborhoods is a common sentiment in Boston. Whether or not it’s sustainable, for both the artists and the communities they live in, is unclear. Artist displacement is a cyclical issue. However, as rents continue to tick up, it could reach a fever pitch. Below are recommendations for a few reads that explore cultural capital, artists in exile and artists on the search for home.
By Gary Indiana
Gary Indiana’s memoir bares all. “I’m almost sixty-five, I still have practically nothing of my own, and could very well end up on the same trash heap where most old people in America get tossed, regardless of whatever ‘cultural capital’ I’ve accumulated.” The book is a retelling of the prolific artist's life from his youth on, from his sleepy hometown of Derry, New Hampshire, to Berkeley, California, Los Angeles, New York and Havana. More than an overt artist memoir, it’s a story about the human condition and what it was like to grow up as a feverishly creative gay man in America. However, infused throughout this book are artists and their search for a place they can call their own.
By Rachel Cusk
Rachel Cusk's most recent novel, “Second Place,” is a domestic story of sorts. It’s written like a long letter to a friend, detailing the narrator's obsession with a painter called "L." A strange relationship begins to take shape after the narrator invites the painter to stay at her country home. The story deals with themes of motherhood, marriage and all things interpersonal, but there's a point in which it shifts and art takes center stage. Similar to Gary Indiana’s memoir, questions about the practicality of cultural capital arise when the painter runs into health issues, and it becomes apparent that he has nowhere to go.
By James Campbell
This retelling of post-World War II Paris and the writers who flocked there is an essential read on the topic of artist displacement. The book follows behemoths like Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Samuel Beckett as they work through their writing and shape their professional lives outside of their home countries. The book is a cultural history of Paris’s expatriate literati, telling the tale of how exile — due to politics, race and war — gave us world-shifting men and women of letters.