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Artist Housing? - Give Me a Break!

By Jose B. Rivera

East Harlem, September 1, 2007.  East Harlem, September 1, 2007. I just received an e-mail from our beloved state senator, Jose M. Serrano, praising the Governor for signing a bill which provides assistance for artist housing needs Here is the text of the e-mail verbatim:


New York, NY - Senator Jose M. Serrano (D-Manhattan/Bronx) today applauded Governor Eliot Spitzer’s decision to sign into law a bill that would provide much needed assistance for artist housing needs.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn), would provide grants over a two-year period of $12,000 for individual artists, or $22,000 for a group of artists who share live-work space.

“This legislation is long overdue for the artists in our communities,” said Senator Serrano. “Artists, in so many ways, provide the cultural vitality and the economic machinery that our growing communities need. Governor Spitzer recognizes this fact, and I congratulate him for supporting this legislation.”

The Governor signed the bill with the expectation that the state legislature would provide the funds to support the grants in their next budget. “In the past, our legislature’s support for artists has been abysmal at best.  I will do all that I can to ensure that funding is provided in next year’s budget for this critical program.”

As Chair of the Senate Democratic Task Force on the Arts and Cultural Affairs, Senator Serrano has been a vocal proponent of the arts as an economic engine - one that can help spark the Upstate economy, and empower working class communities in New York City.

This past month, the Senator hosted the Fourth Annual East Harlem Arts Festival, which has emerged as a diverse and popular venue for local talent. In his yearly legislative grants, the Senator has consistently funded respected cultural institutions - both large and small - in East Harlem, Roosevelt Island and the Bronx.

Serrano concluded: “By putting in place the affordable infrastructure for artists to live and work, we are ensuring that New York - both city and state - remain the Cultural Capital of the World.”

Now, what could possible be wrong with the governor singing this legislation into law? There are a few problems with this idea.  For instance, why do artist get this special treatment? And why housing aid?  The response one is likely to get to that question is that artist by virtue of being artist do not make much and therefore need assistance, right?

But why are we subsidizing those who (1) choose to become artist and who then (2) do not obtain regular employment until their art takes off and sustains them?  A lot of actors work waiting tables until their careers take off or until they are discovered. They are self supporting while they pursue their art. The way it should be done.

But being asked to use tax money to provide for those who wish to pursue their art is a bit over board.  Artist who choose to live solely off their art are more than welcome to do so.  But they should not expect the good people of the state or city of New York to support them in their decision not to seek employment that could sustain them while they pursue their art careers. 

They can choose to work doing anything else that can support them.  Or they can choose to live off their art.  But this is a choice they make. This choice has consequences, that being of probably not making much of a living.  But why should the tax payer be FORCED to pay for their career decisions; their housing in any way shape or form?

The best way to help “self-starving” artist is to have a state and city economy where jobs are plentiful, where everyone can obtain employment.  That way artist can be employed (yes not as artist), but at least they are not living off the rest of us.  Yes, artist should pursue their hearts vocation, but not at the tax payers expense.

Struggling married couples with children are much more in need of housing assistance. As are the poor or anyone else who finds themselves in a situation, not of their choosing, where they need housing assistance from their fellow man. 

Some artist do provide for a more vibrant economy, but so do a lot of other work people, construction workers, policemen, firemen, shoe salesmen, etc…  They are not asking for a free ride.  No one else should either.

Remember, the state has no money.  It does not create anything.  The state is a steward of the tax payer’s money. I ask our state representatives to be good stewards of our tax money.  The middle class can’t keep taking assaults on their wallets. At some point they will revolt.  And this writer will be fighting along side them. Let the Over Taxed Revolt Begin!  What do you think?

Note: This writer loves art, art that edifies and that is understandable.  If the layman can not understand the art, then the artist has failed to convey the meaning of the art and has just failed period. Abstractions are not art.  JBR

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