Gentrification, is a dirty-pretty word

I have both lived and worked in areas in both Toronto and Vancouver that have transformed (or are in the process of transforming) from slum to creative locus to yuppie-ville.

It happens. It’s a familiar cycle. Especially in areas of abandoned industry, just following times of economic hardship and/or technological advancement. Something that was bountiful goes broke; buildings are vacated, storefronts are abandoned. Then the artists move in. Cheap rent and available space is a great medium in which to grow an artist community. Before long, non-artists want in, the hype builds, construction cranes pop up and produce condos and strata corps. Suddenly the off-the-beaten-path, derelickt [sic] appeal of the area plummets, in direct proportion to the soaring rents. And the artists…?

It’s easy to extort the great reasons to live in artsy areas, to be part of that subversive crowd, and to be just ahead of the trends… what happens to these areas once they become really trendy? When the stratas move in, when the city starts developing new community centres, when the divey mall that was at one time the best hang-out for professional recyclers and urban survivalists starts offering a la carte sushi, where do the artists go? What happens to the creatives who needed large, cheap spaces to do their work in?

And this is just part of the conversation that is happening right now about why art is essential to freedom — according to Diane Cameron, in the US they have “culturally specific weapons for killing [artists] work: We lower their status, minimize their contributions, and we cut their funding. We also belittle artists by suggesting that their opinions are irrelevant. It doesn’t make sense.” We also move into their neighbourhoods and change the way everything works.

Consider that argument with what was my original inspiration for this post: artists, the truest cowboy entrepreneurs, are going broke for their work. According to a recent survey reported on by the Gotham Gazette, “many have lost their [income supplementing] jobs and are struggling to afford studio space and materials on top of covering their daily living expenses.” What survey would report that doctors and lawyers and business executives are paying out of pocket to keep the wheels turning and the lights on.

Cash-flow is terminal, the economy staggers and buckles like an elk that’s been hit by an 18-wheeler. What happens to our arts?

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