The New York Times The New York Times New York Region Subscribe to
Premium Crosswords


NYTimes: Home - Site Index - Archive - Help

Welcome, jslaff2 - Member Center - Log Out
Site Search:  

Email This Article E-Mail This Article
Printer Friendly Format Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-mailed Articles Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints & Permissions Reprints & Permissions



World Trade Center (NYC)


New York City

NYT Store
Portraits: 9/11/01 The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times, Revised Edition
Learn More.

Monteo, NC
• Waterfront location
• 4-bedrooms
• Fitness center
• Pool and hot tub

View this and many other dream homes in the Outter Banks on

Survey Finds Post-9/11 Times Harder for City's Artists


Published: March 15, 2004

They are, to a large extent, the same worries that have always been voiced by New York City artists: the rents are too high, the pay is too low, and if things don't get better soon, I'm going to have to go.

But according to a new survey released last week, those problems have only grown in the two and a half years since the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.


"It's never been easy, but it's basically like a lot of possibilities have ended," said Michael Cook, 52, a painter and graphic artist, who had a spacious rent-stabilized apartment overlooking ground zero. After the attack, he was forced to move to a smaller apartment in central Queens as jobs dried up and clients seemed hesitant to venture downtown. "I'm essentially unemployed, and my prospects are worse over here," Mr. Cook said in a telephone interview. "I really don't know what comes next, but I hope things get better."

The report, conducted by the arts coalition DowntownNYC, was based on answers from 175 working artists about their current economic status. (Painters, actors and musicians were the three biggest groups.) Although its sample was not large enough to be authoritative, the survey results are sobering.

Eight percent of the respondents wrote that they had left New York City since 9/11, while an additional 5 percent had moved from downtown, traditionally home to the some of the city's most vibrant artistic neighborhoods. Forty-two percent of the respondents said they had to keep day jobs to pay the rent, decreasing their artistic output, while 13 percent said they were considering abandoning the arts altogether.

The survey, which was conducted by e-mail in early February, gives a sense of some day-to-day pains and annoyances faced by artists in the city.

Take Stanley Allan Sherman, a 50-something actor and theater-mask maker who lives on West 14th Street. Mr. Sherman, who appeared in the Off Broadway play "Grandma Sylvia's Funeral" and plays a regular character on Conan O'Brien's late-night show, said that despite that, he was several months late on rent - "If I win an Academy Award, I'm thanking my landlady" - and thousands of dollars in debt.

"On a scale between 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely serious economic straits, I'd say I'm at 13 or 14," Mr. Sherman said in a telephone interview. "And I'm doing better than most. It's just white-knuckle times everywhere. I've talked to five artists in the last year that have lost their homes, and most of them were people who I perceived as doing well."

One of the artists who left the city is Nancy Friese, a painter whose studio was in the trade center. She retreated to Rhode Island after losing $60,000 worth of work in the collapse. She said she did not paint regularly for nearly two years after the attack.

"Somehow having a studio in the towers when they fell had a greater impact than I had realized," Ms. Friese wrote in her survey response. "I was grateful not to be there, but on the other hand it called into question my whole reason for art."

The report, a follow-up to a similar Internet survey conducted in August 2002, also illuminates some new and unexpected challenges facing artists, including everything from the city's smoking ban, which some musicians say has cut attendance at rock concerts, to the increasing use of nonunion theater tours, which Equity actors say have reduced valuable work opportunities outside the city. Several survey respondents also complained about the loss of ancillary work like temp jobs and corporate events that had helped to pay the rent.

Jonathan Slaff, who wrote the report with Delphine Veaudor, said a major concern was that more artists would leave the city or the arts altogether, a change that he said could hurt the local economy.

As an example, Mr. Slaff cited Jonathan Larson, who was an unknown composer working in the East Village when he wrote the musical "Rent," which subsequently moved to Broadway, attracting tourists and creating jobs.

"Such arts workers are important intellectual capital to the city, but they are rarely acknowledged that way," Mr. Slaff said.

Some arts officials said that although the findings in the survey were not surprising, they were still a source of concern.

"It confirms all the anecdotal stuff I'm hearing," said the executive director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, Ted Berger. "What I find sobering is that people are losing hope. There's nothing new that we don't know, but the idea that there's this very quiet brain drain going on is upsetting."

Among the respondents citing the uncertain economy and the shrinking pool of survival jobs was Corinne Edgerly, an actress living in Washington Heights. She said that even though she baby-sits and does home repair work to make money, those jobs can dry up for months at a time. "I have difficulty finding even nonacting work at this point," Ms. Edgerly wrote. "It isn't how I expect to continue in my artistic career at this point that is the major question. It's how I'm going to continue to survive financially."

Still, despite all the troubles, many respondents said that like generations of New York artists before them, they would persist.

"I write because I am a writer," wrote Valerie Cihylik, an actress and writer who is part of a small theater troupe. "My theater company has produced plays with almost no money at all. It is inconceivable that I or my fellow artists would stop because of money. There has never been any money in theater or writing for anyone but the big names. In difficult times, and in good times, we are who we are."

Get home delivery of The Times from $2.90/week

.Critic's Notebook; One Vision: A Hill of Green at Ground Zero  (September 11, 2003)  $
.BY THE WAY; Peace Offering  (July 6, 2003)  $
.Fears of Terror A Complication For Art Exhibits  (February 25, 2003)  $
.FOOTLIGHTS  (January 15, 2003)  $
Find more results for World Trade Center (NYC) and Art

. Use of Midwives, a Childbirth Phenomenon, Fades in City
. In an I.B.M. Village, Fears of Air and Water Pollution
. Mock Terror Attack Response Provides Training for Disaster
. Political Memo: New York Offers a Lesson on Using 9/11: Tread Lightly
Go to New York Region

Free IQ Test

MSN Video. See the world from your PC.

$7 Online Trades,
Just $500 to Open.