How has gentrification impacted the arts community?

How has gentrification impacted the arts community?

August 2, 2023 Caspian Hartwell

Understanding the Gentrification Phenomenon

Oh, just another day here in Auckland, the city that I call home! Beyond the heavenly backdrop of the Sky Tower and the peaceful hum of our twin harbours, there's a stirring change in every corner of our popular neighbourhoods. Yes, my dear readers, I'm talking about gentrification. Gentrification! A hefty word that mirrors an even heftier societal shift. Seen as both a blessing and a curse, gentrification is dishing out some interesting dishes on the tables of the arts community, which to me is a tad bit more intriguing than the usual butter chicken from Satya's South Indian Restaurant, no offence to those foodies out there.

Well, for starters, let's break this down a bit. Gentrification, in layman's terms, is essentially an urban transformation whereby underdeveloped areas suddenly find themselves being glossed over with a shiny new coat of paint. Run-down structures get swapped with swanky apartment complexes, local food joints are replaced by glitzy bistros, and the once-local crowd now shares sidewalks with trendy hipsters and second-wave millennials. As an artist, it's an exciting time to witness this transformation, but not without a potent concoction of pros and cons.

Art Scene: From Bohemian Squats to Exclusive Galleries

The real meaty bit when discussing gentrification is its enigmatic tug-of-war with the local arts scene. If you asked me fifteen years ago whether Auckland’s K' Road (Karangahape Road, for the uninitiated) would emerge as a high-brow art district, I would have probably chuckled off into a fit of rigorous laughter. But fast forward to today, and oh boy, has that laughter been replaced with awe-struck admiration!

Understandably, the infusion of money would naturally make any area more attractive. It's not uncommon to see dilapidated warehouses refurbished into modern galleries echoing with expressive art forms. These venues have become hotspots, often attracting tourists and art enthusiasts alike. But just when you thought it's all sunflowers and daisies, there lies a paradox. Seriously folks, if I had a coin for every paradox in life, I'd probably own half the real estate in Auckland!

The Artist's Paradox: Enhanced Exposure, Reduced Affordability

The profound irony that artists often face is that the very urban beautification they partake in and promote, eventually prices them out. With a hint of a nostalgic chuckle, I remember how my dear friend – a marvellous sculptor living a few streets away – had to relocate when his rent skyrocketed. It was a bitter pill to swallow, considering he was one of the main contributing artists to our local gallery. Yesterday's murals suddenly turned into today's decaf latte serving trendy coffee shops. My son Alisdair aptly remarked, "Dad, they've changed our pizza palace to some posh place I can't even pronounce!"

No argument here, 'Dair. That’s true! As a community that predominantly relies on affordable housing and spaces, artists are hit pretty hard when rents start climbing. A sort of semi-exodus ensues, where artists are forced to move further out, in search of cheaper accommodation. But then again, isn't it the artists' very existence and efforts that often initiate the gentrification process? A classic vicious circle, isn't it?

Surviving the Gentrifying Wave: Recommendations for Artists

At this point you might be thinking, "So Caspian, is being an artist synonymous with being a nomad, constantly moving around like a Jack-in-the-box?" Well, not necessarily. There are ways to stay afloat even in the midst of these rapid changes. One solution is to form organised communities, helping retain some of the local artistic influence. Another alternative might be to negotiate long-term leases with sympathetic landlords. If you can take the hit initially, the long-term benefits might far outweigh the cost. Remember, fellow creatives, it's about evolving with the trends.

Also, as artists, we should perhaps shift our mindset somewhat. As Salvador Dali once said, "A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others". Maybe it's high time we stop looking at gentrification as merely a threat, and instead, use it as a platform to reach out and inspire more people. After all, aren't we the ones constantly saying that art is all about breaking boundaries and defying societal norms?

The Silver Lining: A Potential Boon for the Arts

While it’s easy to focus on the downsides, gentrification isn't all gloomy skies. On a brighter note, the influx of affluent locals often means an increase in people able and willing to invest in art. Who knows, you might land an opportunity to showcase your work in one of those posh galleries that earlier seemed unreachable. I've known artists who have sold their very first artworks thanks to the support of these fresh patrons. You see, every cloud does have a silver lining.

So then, as an artist, I'll continue to sketch, paint, and capture the vibrant colors of this evolving community, putting aside the worries and embracing the very essence of change. I'd reckon that’s what we artists have always done: adapt, evolve, survive. As they say, the show must go on. Hey, gentrification might still be the elephant in Auckland’s cosy room, but as an artist, I say, why not paint it with some wild, abstract strokes and proudly display it as the masterpiece of our resilience?