David Byrne: Will Work for Inspiration.

October 7, 2013

As part of Creative Time Reports’ Summit Series, musician, artist and bicycle diarist David Byrne considers New York City’s present and future ahead of the 2013 Creative Time Summit: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City.

Peter Halley, Indexed, 1997.

Peter Halley, Indexed, 2007.

I’m writing this in Venice, Italy. This city is a pleasantly confusing maze, once an island of fortresses, and now a city of tourists, culture (biennales galore) and crumbling relics. Venice used to be the most powerful city in Europe—a military, mercantile and cultural leader. Sort of like New York.

Venice is now a case study in the complete transformation of a city (there’s public transportation, but NO cars). Is it a living city? Is it a fossil? The mayor of Venice recently wrote a letter to the New York Review of Books, arguing that his city is indeed a place to live, not simply a theme park for tourists (he would like very much if the big cruise ships steered clear). I guess it’s a living place if you count tourism as an industry, which I suppose it is. New York has its share of tourists, too. I wave to the double-decker buses from my bike, but the passengers never wave back. Why? Am I not an attraction?

New York was recently voted the world’s favorite city—but when you break down the survey’s results, the city comes in at #1 for business and only #5 for living. Fifth place isn’t completely embarrassing, but what are the criteria? What is it that attracts people to this or any city? Forget the business part. I’ve been in Hong Kong, and unless one already has the means to live luxuriously, business hubs aren’t necessarily good places for living. Cities may have mercantile exchange as one of their reasons for being, but once people are lured to a place for work, they need more than offices, gyms and strip clubs to really live.

New York is funky, in the original sense of the word—New York smells like sex.

Work aside, we come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes that possibility of serendipitous encounters—and I don’t mean in the meat market—is the principal lure. If one were to vote based on criteria like comfort or economic security, then one wonders why anyone would ever vote for New York at all over Copenhagen, Stockholm or some other less antagonistic city that offers practical amenities like affordable health care, free universities, free museums, common spaces and, yes, bike lanes. But why can’t one have both—the invigorating energy and the civic, intelligent humanism?

Maybe those Scandinavian cities do in fact have both, but New York has something else to offer, thanks to successive waves of immigrants that have shaped the city. Arriving from overseas, one is immediately struck by the multi-ethnic makeup of New York. Other cities might be cleaner, more efficient or comfortable, but New York is funky, in the original sense of the word—New York smells like sex.

Immigrants to New York have contributed to the city’s vibrancy decade after decade. In some cities around the world, immigrants are relegated to being a worker class, or a guest-worker class; they’re not invited to the civic table. New York has generally been more welcoming, though people of color have never been invited to the table to the same extent as European immigrants.

I moved to New York in the mid-1970s because it was a center of cultural ferment—especially in the visual arts (my dream trajectory, until I made a detour), though there was a musical draw too, even before the downtown scene exploded. New York was legendary. It was where things happened, on the East Coast anyway. One knew in advance that life in New York would not be easy, but there were cheap rents in cold-water lofts without heat, and the excitement of being here made up for those hardships. I didn’t move to New York to make a fortune. Survival, at that time, and at my age then, was enough. Hardship was the price one paid for being in the thick of it.

I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit.

As one gets a little older, those hardships aren’t so romantic—they’re just hard. The tradeoff begins to look like a real pain in the ass if one has been here for years and years and is barely eking out a living. The idea of making an ongoing creative life—whether as a writer, an artist, a filmmaker or a musician—is difficult unless one gets a foothold on the ladder, as I was lucky enough to do. I say “lucky” because I have no illusions that talent is enough; there are plenty of talented folks out there who never get the break they deserve.

Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.

The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.

In New York there has been no public
rejection of the culture that led to the financial crisis.

What then is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this New Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now, then we would have to say that it looks a lot like the divided city that presumptive mayor Bill De Blasio has been harping about: most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me and some of the Creative Time team), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.

This city doesn’t make things anymore. Creativity, of all kinds, is the resource we have to draw on as a city and a country in order to survive. In the recent past, before the 2008 crash, the best and the brightest were lured into the world of finance. Many a bright kid graduating from university knew that they could become fairly wealthy almost instantly if they found employment at a hedge fund or some similar institution. But before the financial sector came to dominate the world, they might have made things: in publishing, manufacturing, television, fashion, you name it. As in many other countries the lure of easy bucks Hoovered this talent and intelligence up—and made it difficult for those other kinds of businesses to attract any of the top talent.

A culture of arrogance, hubris and winner-take-all was established. It wasn’t cool to be poor or struggling. The bully was celebrated and cheered. The talent pool became a limited resource for any industry, except Wall Street. I’m not talking about artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians—they weren’t exactly on a trajectory toward Wall Street anyway—but any businesses that might have employed creative individuals were having difficulties surviving, and naturally the arty types had a hard time finding employment too.

If young, emerging
talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been.

Unlike Iceland, where the government let misbehaving banks fail and talented kids became less interested in leaping into the cesspool of finance, in New York there has been no public rejection of the culture that led to the financial crisis. Instead, there has been tacit encouragement of the banking industry’s actions from figures like Mayor Bloomberg. The nation’s largest financial institutions are almost all still around, still “too big to fail” and as powerful as ever. One might hope that enlightened bankers might emulate the Medicis and fund culture-makers—both emerging artists and those still in school—as a way of ensuring a continued talent pool that would invent stuff and fill the world with ideas and inspiration, but other than buying blue-chip art for their walls and donating to some institutions what is, for them, small change, they don’t seem to be very much interested in replenishing the talent pool.

One would expect that the 1 percent would have a vested interest in keeping the civic body healthy at least—that they’d want green parks, museums and symphony halls for themselves and their friends, if not everyone. Those indeed are institutions to which they habitually contribute. But it’s like funding your own clubhouse. It doesn’t exactly do much for the rest of us or for the general health of the city. At least, we might sigh, they do that, as they don’t pay taxes—that we know.

Many of the wealthy don’t even live here. In the neighborhood where I live (near the art galleries in Chelsea), I can see three large condos from my window that are pretty much empty all the time. What the fuck!? Apparently rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of a year. So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city? They’re never here.

This real estate situation—a topic New Yorkers love to complain about over dinner—doesn’t help the future health of the city. If young, emerging talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been. Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Ugh. If New York goes there—more than it already has—I’m leaving.

But where will I go? Join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson?

Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian? Is that possible? I think it is. It’s still the most stimulating and exciting place in the world to live and work, but it’s in danger of walking away from its greatest strengths. The physical improvements are happening—though much of the crumbling public infrastructure still needs fixing. If the social and economic situation can be addressed, we’re halfway there. It really could be a model of how to make a large, economically sustainable and creatively energetic city. I want to live in THAT city.

This piece, commissioned by Creative Time Reports, has also been published by The Guardian.


159 Responses to “David Byrne: Will Work for Inspiration.”

  1. Peter says:

    Move to Tucson. We are poor, unassuming, tortilla-eaters.

  2. cj says:

    move to the uk free health care and a flourishing culture that the world admires

    • Upstage Right says:

      London—although a wonderful city— is even less affordable than NYC. And just as tough on musicians. (e.g. West End players make 2/3 what Broadway players do, yet the cost of living in London is higher than New York.) Though you do have health care…

  3. Norman B. Schwartz says:

    As a native born New Yorker, Grove Street in Greenwich Village, I must disagree with David. He has born so long away from the fine air of the highlands that he has apparently lost his olfactory nerves. New York does not smell of sex, as he claims, it smells of garbage. I have also lived for many years in Venice, a sinking city, whereas New York may be said to be a stinking city. Evelyn Waugh once wrote that in something in the air in Manhattan that the natives think of as energy but which an Englishman instantly recognizes as neuroses. If he were alive today, he might detect something stronger. Cities have their moment in time, certainly in the arts. When Paris had its golden age, it was not because a lot of lawyers and stock brokers wanted to buy apartments in the 7th arrondisment. It was because Paris was cheap. Cheap enough for the Spaniard Picasso, the Russian Stravinsky, the Irishman Joyce, the Italian Modigliani, and the American Hemingway. Once rents go up, as they invariably do, artists go out. Where next for the artists of tomorrow? My friends say it’s Berlin and why not? No city owns a monopoly on energy and creativity.

  4. Robert Stribley says:

    Portland, Austin? These places (and others) aren’t New York yet. Not by a long stretch. But they’re drawing creatives and their cultures are getting richer every minute. And they’re far less expensive places to live.

    • Kylie says:

      I know people in both those cities and they’re making the exact same complaints as we are in New York: Local businesses (and affordable places to live) are seeing the rent raise unreasonably, closing down and then becoming luxury condos. To say “their cultures are getting richer every minute” is about ten years out of date. Many of the “creatives” you mention are already leaving.

      • Robert Stribley says:

        That’s certainly one person’s opinion.

        • JohnFrancisBittrich says:

          It’s also the correct opinion. I left Boston (one of the most expensive cities in the world rent-wise and not exactly a hotbed for alternative culture) for Portland 2 years ago to experience this vibrant artistic culture that supposedly exists there and I’ve already moved back. The rents are now nearly identical, the city doesn’t have enough jobs to support the population influx (seriously took me 6 months to land a job working 8 hours a week for minimum wage) and the locals (at least in the music scene) are extremely hostile to recent arrivals who they see as post-Portlandia trendhoppers and poseurs. At least in Boston what with all the colleges people are willing to give n00bs a fighting chance, because they’ve just been a regular part of the landscape there every fall since time immemorial. Friends of mine who tried Austin have told similar tales. They’re bothcompletely tapped out. They don’t have the resources or infrastructure to be the cities the media wants them to be.

          • Robert Stribley says:

            There’s no way rents in Portland are comparable to Boston or New York. Not nearly. And you can buy a massive house in Portland for the cost of a studio apartment here.

          • JohnFrancisBittrich says:

            People still buy houses?

          • David I says:

            ……. I moved to Portland a week ago, I already have a job working 30 hours a week at 10/hr, and the rent here is at least 100-200 dollars cheaper than it is in LA. No clue what the hell you are talking about…

          • JohnFrancisBittrich says:

            Well clearly my anecdotal evidence is superior to yours because… well… I don’t know. Congrats on the job.

          • Sara Marie says:

            I kinda think you are right. Portland is lovely, but it’s always been a bit self righteous and hostile in my experience.

          • colin haller says:

            There is another Portland a lot closer to Boston — perhaps you could try that one? ;-)

      • I was just visiting portland and at bought 3 drinks at one of their few meat-packing-y club places, and they were $10. Total. I expressed my shock to the bartender and said that most people in PDX think that’s expensive.

        in PDX you can live off being a fire dancing hula hooper, and your drinks are $3. In NY you’d make 5x as much much money with a “real” job and pay $12 for whiskey sodas.

        it’s all relative.

    • Steve Dzielak says:

      Paraphrasing: “And these two shall change.” Citing The Brains: “Money changes EVERYTHING.”

  5. Paul Stewart says:

    Didn’t we have a chance with New Orleans to do something like what you are describing, except we shored up the dikes, dumped the garbage, drained the sewage and got the talent to say the city was open again. They are Still built in a surge zone, just like New York. How sustainable are any of those places to live in on the coast; so fine go up the Hudson and live on a flood plain, D`oh. Art is what we keep, Culture is always washed away by the tides of history. I love art, culture, and bike lanes too, but really, the Medicis, the bankers and doctors are the saviors of creativity, inspiration and innovation? The same Medicis banned from governing for 20yrs? Really you would put the spurning of creativity into the hands of the 1% ? Very few of the 1%, and that is a really small number, have ever really done something that was not also a benefit to their bottom line or reputation. Anonymous donations, pish posh; more like, guilt and pity and a sustainable loss. You really can’t do anything about the helpless, it is the nature of helplessness; if you are able to help someone than they are not helpless, but we all have a choice about giving and receiving help. The track record of the authoritarian 1% over history are the visible scars on this planet from the greed and wars they wage in the interest of remaining on the top of their heap; we know beauty is really in the eye of the beholder, art and meaning is made by each of us. Do we really need the sanction even the sanctification of petri dishes by the 1%, Or likes of your threat of withdrawing from the community (though to be honest your abscense was already noted to the audiance wider than the borders of New York City,) to find meaning and meaningful relics

  6. okalokee says:

    “I will find a city, find myself a city to live in…”

  7. bohemianpossible says:

    Come the Philadelphia! I lived on $9000 a year while I worked as a boat builder and the visual arts scene is popping.

  8. Place is no longer as essential as it was pre-internet and high speed data transmission. Where I live, in rural Western North Carolina, surrounded by 5,000 foot mountains and lush green national forest, I can communicate with anyone in the world, visit galleries and museums, engage in forums on subjects important to me. If I need the buzz of the city, I can drive two hours to Atlanta, Knoxville, Asheville, Greenville or a little longer to Charleston or Savannah. I was in NYC in the early ’90s, on East 7th and later in Chelsea and Long Island City. So, I’ve seen it change and in my opinion lose its funk. Today’s New York doesn’t have room for dreamers, freaks and non-conformists. If you are a self describe artist there today, odds are you are also a banker, web developer, trust fund beneficiary, or some other type of huslter. The smart people I knew cashed out long ago and now reside in places like Asheville. If you’re thinking there’s no life out side of the city, trust me, it’s calling you. A true creative takes inspiration from wherever they are. I no longer find inspiration in towers of wealth and power, hordes of people, clamoring shoppers and hyper-multi-tasking hipsters. I suppose it comes with age but I think David Byrne just needs to realize he’s moved beyond what NYC has to offer and there’s no shame in that.

    • pmcgee77 says:

      Escaping to rural and country retreats is principally a benefit only the fairer-skinned can enjoy.

      • Kind of presumptuous on your part and dismissive of the many subcultures that exist outside or urban dwelling. This area is ripe with both African-American, Scottish and immigrant traditions. Perhaps you need to leave your academic mindset and actually experience life, either in a urban or rural setting. It’s easy to postulate about how things are when you don’t live them.

      • All interaction is real, whether urban or rural. Are you denigrating my experiences because I’m not stressed out in the city, paying exhorbitant rents, living unnaturally, having litle public space to utilize? I’ve lived in Medellin, Miami, chicago, Boston, NYC, Chattanooga, Charleston and Asheville. I think I know what city life is.

  9. Malcolm Lewis says:

    Why not move to Jersey City or Newark?

    • Ayodeji Rotinwa says:

      Exactly! Hoboken is not that bad either. I think. I haven’t the resources to compare rent prices.

    • Newark-bound-boy says:

      I just moved to Newark from 20 years on Brooklyn. It reminds me of Brooklyn when I first moved there. Only this time I’m in a position to buy my home. That’s the only way I would be able to stay in an area that’s remotely close to NYC. I realize this is not a strategy available to all. But it is a goal — a mindset that must be adopted if you don’t want to be pushed to the hinterlands.

  10. Malcolm Lewis says:

    Newark dance party tomorrow
    Tuesday October 8th 7:30pm to 10pm
    @Seed Gallery
    210 Market St. Newark, NJ
    “For the first time ever, we will be reviving the energy of the music scene that was in its heyday in Newark during the 1920’s. A first ever improvisational evening that will bring together the most talented musicians from the Tri-state area. Open to all musicians; experience the magic of improvisational synergy. Be a part of an inspiring evening, featuring: sound, and a drum set and mic set up in house….. Please feel free to bring your instruments.
    Lets make some new history together. Good Vibes”

  11. Peter says:

    The answer is not in moving to a beautiful space in the country like some comments suggest. New York was so exciting because it was the place where art and commerce were crashing into each other with fantastic results. Unfortunately the last round of Wall Street affluenza led to the loss of a lot of creative people to other boroughs or other cities. Can cities come back? How about cultures? I kinda think its gone and we’re in for something new altogether, still trying to figure out what it is. Its not “the beats”, punk rock, hip hop or the pop art scene that’s for sure.

  12. “I wave to the double-decker buses from my bike, but the passengers never wave back. Why? Am I not an attraction?” LOL. Sure you are, David, but those of us who know who you are and like what you’ve done aren’t likely to be gawking at NYC from a double-decker bus.

    A few years ago, somebody asked Andrei Codrescu what he thought of NYC, and he replied, “Fine place to be young and rich in.” That sounds about right to me, with the accent less on the “young” and more on the “rich.” I think much of the creative ferment that used to happen in NYC now happens in places like Austin, Portland, and where I live, in Durham, NC. Back when you and your friends moved to NYC and became Talking Heads, places like Durham were being left for dead by their traditional industries and much of their populations. But for the past 10 to 20 years, people have been moving back, taking over the abandoned buildings and doing all kinds of interesting things – art, music, etc. Unlike NYC, there’s plenty of cheap, funky space here. It’s a fine place to be creative and not-rich in (aside from the current North Carolina political shitfest). I know you travel around the country and see these places. To somebody used to NYC, they may look too small to matter much. But don’t underestimate them. A creative scene doesn’t have to be huge to stimulate the participants in a big way.

  13. anntracy51 says:

    Come to Portland Maine David!

  14. apikoros18 says:

    I moved out of NYC, after 38 years, about 6 weeks ago, to San Francisco. Despite paying so much in NY rents, even after hearing about the SF housing market, I was still shocked at the prices. I am also still thrilled to be out of NY even if I am in the “Bay Area” and not SF. I didn’t realize how hard it is to survive there, how bucolic and logocentric the culture had become in NYC.

  15. John Bailo says:

    The city is a cultural relic for ghosts. -Marshall McLuhan

  16. Jean says:

    Detroit. The new frontier. Collaborative. Cheap. Not bought in. Loads of history, loads of spirit, plenty of diversity and plenty of room to grow.

    • shenneferh says:

      I considered resettling there three years ago when we were contemplating our escape from NY. Recently I read that they’re selling off the Detroit Museum lock, stock, and barrel right now. Sad.

    • EDI_NYC says:

      Hong Kong is the correct anology here. It is

      • EDI_NYC says:

        Hong Kong is the correct analogy here. Byrne is correct. The city of Hong Kong is the antithesis of COMMERCE CULTURE. It is the perfect example to use as a city that is built by and use by rich industrialists. Despite the meager playgrounds they might allow for a handful of would-be artist who never attempt to disrupt the hierarchy.

    • Sara Marie says:

      Really? I keep thinking that it might be so. I think of New Orleans and Detroit as similar and New Orleans is full of art and artists. I’ve never been to Detroit, but as someone who LOVES old architecture and small creative businesses, it seems like someplace I should maybe check out.

      • missmoss says:

        i am a detroit area artist and its pretty much the best thing ever. i bought my own home, complete with endless studio space, on an artist’s salary. you can truly do it all here and be in excellent company while you do. bonus: you get to feel like a pioneer.

  17. Jeqal says:

    Move to Detroit and try to influence an integration of various economic strata. Detroit can be heavily influenced by an influx of wealthy talent.

  18. mbooberalles says:

    I agree with most of this, except DB’s point about taxes: The top one per cent of earners pay forty-three per cent of the city’s income tax.

  19. Kingkay says:

    Your comment about Hong Kong having no culture comes from someone that has only experienced 1% of Hong Kong. How many local Cantonese people have you meet and mingled with to afford that sort of sweeping statement. Probably like most expats that live in HK they choose to stay in the expat bubble. It is one of the few places in the world where you will find people who have lived there for more then 10 years and can’t even say hello in the local language

  20. NN says:

    we just quit our very successful day jobs and are taking the $$ and moving to new york to follow our music passion. we are not hipsters. we are old school and real. nice read and respect for the assesment. probably spot on, we cant change what new york may have become, but we can do our thing there… even at great expense… still worth it ;)

  21. g says:

    I agree that especially since nine eleven NYC has become super chicken shit and more money grubbing than ever.
    But here we are 30+ years into the Reagan/Thatcher era and it so it goes.
    At least the occupy movement started a conversation about inequality – hoping it builds into a movement.

  22. TrustMeI'mAScientist says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, David. If you find that NYC has become too expensive, you essentially have four options:

    1) Move somewhere less expensive.
    2) Make more money.
    3) Make the city more affordable by making it a less desirable place to live (ie “crappier.” This is the approach we took in the 70s and 80s.)
    4) Make the city more affordable by developing enough housing to keep up with increasing demand. (Unfortunately, those of us who complain about affordability tend to complain just as vociferously about this idea. So it’s probably a nonstarter.)

    Numbers 1 and 2 seem the healthiest and most realistic to me. Number 4 sounds like a natural fix in theory, but I’m skeptical that it will ever happen. Number 3 is just not a very wise option.

    If NYC gets so expensive that some of our young, ambitious, struggling creative people have to move elsewhere… Well, that will be the gain of other cities. Fortunately, it’s not like there is a shortage of us here in New York. If anything, there are plenty of us to spare.

    If anything, sometimes, when I look around, I feel like we’re hogging all the striving young creatives. That you don’t live in a neighborhood filled with them, and have instead chosen Chelsea is your choice. It’s not a reflection of how many of us there are in this city.

    If anything, we’ve swarmed the perimeter of this town. And we’re the ones driving up rents at the low end. Because we all decided we wanted to live here at once.

    In all honestly, what a Russian billionaire pays for a penthouse in Manhattan has no effect on my rent here in Brooklyn. What does have an effect is what other ambitious, creative young people are willing to pay. So if we’re upset about the affordability of this city, we can look only to ourselves.

    More optimistically, perhaps the rising cost of this city is the market’s way of saying: “Hey, young, ambitious creative people with more time than money: Other cities need you. We’re kind of full at the moment. Try Detroit, Portland, Austin, Baltimore, Philly. They need you a lot more than we do right now. So take what you’ve learned in New York, and go help make those cities really great.”

    If it’s alright with you Mr. Byrne, I’d like to stay cautiously optimistic about this whole thing.

    It’s much easier to get out of bed in the morning that way. And it makes it much easier to recognize real opportunities when they come along. There are plenty of them. That they no longer exist in SoHo or Williamsburg or Chelsea or the East Village is just the nature of the beast. That’s New York. Opportunities are always on the move.

    If, Mr Byrne, you decide to move to one of those other cities and help make it greater than it is today, I’d applaud that move. But it wouldn’t make me love this city any less.

    I decided to struggle and strive to live here in NYC, not because I want to live in the most affordable city. It is because I want to live in the best damn city I could find, surrounded by other people who are just as energetic and ambitious and obsessed with figuring out what value they can add to the world. And I’m willing to pay for it.

    That’s New York. All I ask is that we don’t confuse it with some other city by mistake.

    • Khaled says:


    • Justin R says:

      + 1, I totally agree Scientist.

      It’s really easy to say “NYC is dead!”… But it’s a lot more complicated – at least for people who genuinely love the city. I’m curious to see which cities create a hub for artists and manage to keep it livable. NYC is amazing in it’s resiliency, it’s manage to support waves and waves of immigration. Look at Berlin, rent is cheap but it’s hard as hell to get a job, and now rents are increasing there. Does that mean Berlin is dead? Rent here in NYC is expensive, but there are also a lot of jobs.

      I don’t think this is just an NYC problem, but really is just a reflection of the structure art world. Kids are going into 100K worth of debt, and are basically fucked by the time they get out of art school. The non-profit / governmental grants in the States could be better (but is that really the answer?), then add NYC rents and the formula just doesn’t work like it might have in the past. Add to that the pay-to-submit Art prizes (the kind like 3rd word puts out), and it just makes me wonder, wtf are we (artists) doing?

      I see this as transitional period, and I’m curious to see what happens. I hope creative communities will continue to spread all over the country, which sounds to me like a great thing.

      All I know is personally I’m not ready leave NYC.

  23. Amy Krane says:

    You got it right, David. Come to Hudson. The combination of nature and nurture is incomparable. The energy and spirit is that of a place on the brink. The sense of community is embracing. It’s not without its problems of course. It’s an amazing place for part II of a life spent in a city like New York. I did it and there’s no regrets.

    • Komradebob says:

      Too bad it’s ruining it for those of us who’ve been in the Hudson area for decades. Prices have skyrocketed, farms are being snapped up to be turned into gated McMansions, and the quality of life we loved is dropping. But that’s what folks are complaining is happening to NYC and other cities…Hmmm…I think I’ve heard this before…

  24. ChipNipple says:

    …a little late Mr. Byrne. I’d say your a bit behind the curve here.

  25. Chris Lombardi says:

    You could, like many of the rest of us,move to Philadelphia, which _also_ has become a magnet for immigrants. But Patti Smith probably told you that already.

  26. Khaled says:

    NYC is all about hustle .. either grind it out or don’t, no matter the BS that gets thrown at you

  27. jonlester says:

    Well, I’ll be there again next week, hopefully taking in another cheap happy hour in the Chelsea galleries. I guess you have to live there a long time to get tired of it, because I sure haven’t, and the people I know who do live there say there’s more art happening than they can keep up with.

  28. D says:

    Another bump for Philadelphia. I share a 2400 sf home with one other person. Mortgage + utilities per month: $650.

  29. Sam Weinrott says:

    Paying $695 to live on broad street in a 900 sq ft, high ceilinged, beautiful one bedroom in South Philadelphia. Great food, nightlife, vibrant musical/artistic community. Plus it’s friendly.

  30. Troubadour Puppies says:

    It’s true! Those with the monetary means need to take a more active role in supporting the artistic and cultural underground in their cities and communities. It’s not always easy to figure out how to support the arts in ways other than giving donations to the “country club” institutions in big cities. That’s why we have to invent ways for people to help individual artists, like this project: http://www.troubadourpuppies.com

    Thanks for the great article!

  31. swf says:

    Richmond Virginia is where it’s at.

  32. blasphematic says:

    Oh, boo-whoo. The trust fund babies went to Wall Street instead of living off their parents and creating terrible paintings to fill a show at their mother’s sister’s friend’s gallery. See, people who have the *option* of working on Wall Street are always already of a vastly different class — a class that David Byrne laments is no longer choosing poverty. I love his music; I don’t think all artists from money are fortunate buffoons (but many are); I’m not some “that’s just what the free market dictates: more brokers, fewer poets” douchenozzle. But I sure as fuck don’t care about what the rich kids of Moloch do or don’t do. Without a single doubt, New York has always been the deepest pool in the ocean of American culture. But, if New York is starting to dry up, then almost all of the rest of America has suffered desertification for decades. Welcome to the rest of America, NYC.

    • Byrne’s not talking about the rich kids who dabble in art; he’s talking about the poor kids who used to be able to afford to be starving artists in New York because there was at least someplace in town where rent was cheap. How close can you get to Manhattan in 2012 and find cheap rent? The Poconos? Rhode Island? Would Byrne’s contemporaries the Ramones be able to afford to live in Williamsburg if they were starting out now? Not with luxury condos going up right and left.

      • blasphematic says:

        To quote the article: “In the recent past, before the 2008 crash, the best and the brightest were lured into the world of finance. Many a bright kid graduating from university knew that they could become fairly wealthy almost instantly if they found employment at a hedge fund or some similar institution. But before the financial sector came to dominate the world, they might have made things: in publishing, manufacturing, television, fashion, you name it.”

        I have always despised Holden Caulfield. The more of them that go to Wall Street, the better for the arts.

  33. mnofler says:

    1 percent on 1 percent crime

  34. shenneferh says:

    I’m an artist from the Hudson Valley who spent 20+ years helping to create an arts community in and around New Paltz and Kingston. I talked restaurants, banks, and other office venues into hosting tiny art exhibits in their establishments for young up-and-comers, I supported co-ops and creative groups, networked with the Downtown Business Association and the Rotary Club, and painted on the street [and in the woods] for more than a decade. My work’s in private collections in 24 US states, 6 European countries, South Africa, China, and Japan, I’ve shown [and sold] in Chelsea and at the ArtExpo in the Javitz, and I’ve done design work for the Grateful Dead, The Band, and a couple of covers for Mercury Rev [friends of mine].
    But when I became ill with post-Lyme’s fibro, I could no longer hustle [working the 'day job' of high-end interior construction AND making art], and began to fade away. At this point, all of New York state is beyond my reach, financially, as an artist.
    It’s historical tradition for artists to enliven a place, help to build it up, and then be squeezed out by gentrification. Yuppies in SoHo, and now yuppies in New Paltz. Kingston has been up and down many times. Woodstock [to the north] is the haven of the very wealthy. Phoenicia is going there next.
    When I was in the depths of my illness, I was working seven days a week for two years just to survive. I would go to work, come home, play video games, and go to bed. It was no kind of life, and it was all I could do. I was pretty much dying inside.
    My husband, who I met online, “kidnapped” me [over about 6 years] and brought me out to Central Kansas. We bought “the Little Heap on the Prairie”- a nigh-derelict trailer on 1/2 acre of land in a tiny near-ghost town. We’re converting it into a cottage, over years [no money for materials]. I miss my friends and family, but the living is much cheaper here. I began making art again. We’ll see where it goes.
    The proponents of Ayn Randian [aka fictional] social structures- those who love to shoot intellectuals at the first sign of change- would have us believe that art belongs to the wealthy, and that the making of art by romantically impoverished artists, whose masters encourage them, somehow validates it.
    The reality is that great art derives from experience and an internal vision/wisdom about life- usually an outsider’s vision. These outsiders’ visions are things that a conformists’ mercantile society does not encourage, does not condone, and truly does not understand. Poverty does not generate wisdom, it generates desperation and pain. Desperation and pain do not provide special insights into life unless one is a masochist.

    Art is created from the soul of somebody who has lived in observation, who has internally chewed up the conformists’ world like a dragon- they have seen the flaws in the masks and torn them from the faces of those who wear them. Artists are monstrous beasts who cannot live in polite society without a struggle. And their work is the digested matter left behind, the fewmets.
    The people who want to collect those fewmets and pretend they understand or control the dragons are deluded. They want to live in the place where the artists lived, to seem as though they’re in touch with their own creativity, so they gentrify it and drive the artists out.
    They want to exclude “riff-raff” from the arts and thereby create cul-de-sac galleries that only show the already known, comfortable stuff. They want to control the visions of people whose entire lives are intensely different than their own, and they have no understanding of the things they exclude and destroy when they seek to create conformity in the arts. It’s like bulldozing an old-growth rainforest when the arts “biz” shuts out young artists- they have no idea what they’re destroying, and they don’t care, because it’s good for their biz.

    I’ve got news for them- the patterns have not changed from the time Vincent shot himself, from when Pisarro was a hard-working construction laborer, from when Gauguin ditched the stock market to sling paint. They are the same people, reincarnated, who are derided in the art histories, and their stone mausoleums full of fewmets of beasts that they do not understand do not make them kin to the dragons.

    • cole hutchison says:

      Woah. This is incredible!

    • Guest says:

      full of beauty. beautiful. beautiful.

    • Queen Esther says:

      Thank you, again and again, for writing this. Somebody has to say it. It’s got to come from a true artist. Beautiful — just stunning.

    • JoAnn says:

      With appreciation and deep gratitude for saying like it is….with pure dragon passion. Kansas sounds awesome, and far from most of the 1% for now anyway. They’re turning vital “attractive” communities everywhere (like mine in Colorado) into parodies of what once was, empty superficial shells full of empty beds, empty spaces “on hold” – as dragons old and young and rif-raff go houseless, spaceless, jobless. The bottom line that is life, not money will prevail. The next crash will see to this. Life is part of Nature; money is man-made.

        • Dusty Ayres says:

          Bullshit, and no thanks to Guest. Crashes only produce more misery and more hardship, not great things. If you want to see things get better, stop being negative emoprogressives and start supporting the politicians (and the current POTUS) that are trying to make life better for all U.S. citizens.

    • jmd says:

      Hear, hear(sic)…!
      Every artist community in have lived in, here in NYC has gone belly up(at least for the struggling artist): Greenwich Village, Tribeca, East Village, Williamsburg, and now the Rockaways, where we can’t afford to repair our homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Probably someone with the funds to do it will come in, buy into, and elevate(going up) the tax base. I feel like the canary in the mineshaft, dropping off my perch every time the fumes become too rich. The struggle takes precedence over the prize…

    • Daniel Lamblin says:

      That artists alone serve in some special kind of real-estate hell to “enliven” places and be pushed out on some special cusp of liveliness is a terrible myth that simply must stop being repeated.

      Immigrants do the same, rarely do they get to write about being pushed aside.

      And there’s plenty of other groups that move in, form a culture, and move on eventually, everyone from religious groups, laborers, engineers, ethnic groups and the various arts, not to mention there are things like business districts that aren’t arts that also change [http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/29/5156302/akihabara-radio-store-closes-down-photos]. That’s because every place changes.

      • Nowhere in my statement did I assert that only artists have this issue.

        However I haven’t witnessed too many yuppies attracted to or gentrifying neighborhoods inhabited exclusively by engineers, laborers, or religious groups recently. But I give you the fact that perhaps it’s because I’m none of those things.

        That said, the fact that artists have been pushed out of neighborhoods they helped to build is not a myth, it’s a fact of my [and many artists before me] experience. If you would prefer I not “repeat” those facts, that’s your problem. Using the word “myth” [the troll word for "lie"] is just you airing some kind of buried grudge, as opposed to discussing the topic.

        “Immigrants being pushed aside” has spawned entire sections of bookstores, from fiction to fact, so I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that they haven’t been able to write about their experiences.

        As for your last paragraph, I’m uncertain about what you’re getting at- you cite both ethnic groups and arts as people who are going through the same thing I described.

        Would it help you to hate me less if you knew that concurrent with my efforts as an artist I also worked my ass off in construction in order to pay my bills and raise my children? Because I did. That doesn’t remove the fact that no engineer I know of has ever had to work two jobs in order to pursue the work they were trained for, despite having a shorter training period, nor has any engineer been chided about “getting a real job” while working two of them.

        Whatever your beef, I’m sorry, but the facts are with me on this one.

        • Daniel Lamblin says:

          I only had a beef with one paragraph out of the many, starting with “It’s historical tradition for artists to enliven a place, help to build it up, and then be squeezed out by gentrification.” And I admit that I couldn’t follow the thread of your last three paragraphs.

          I wasn’t taking issue with the difficulties of living as an artist. And I don’t think I was making any personal judgement beyond this one particular outlook being misplaced.

          I don’t deny that neighborhoods change and that some of those that change were once great for artists; so definitely those facts are with you. I also am not surprised to hear that artists felt they had made something special, and are sad to lose it. But the narrative of that paragraph alone is the repeated one that seems to come with this implication that people are just using artists, waiting for them to put work into a neighborhood and then kicking them out. More likely there is simply no permanence in communities.

          • I’m not sure that “lack of permanence” really qualifies as an explanation, in my world, so much as a description. By that I mean that it’s not a cause so much as an effect.

            Of course, I also believe that everything is cyclical, so that’s not really an accurate way of wording it.

            I raised my children and lived in and participated in the communities of New Paltz [and Highland, Rosendale, Stone Ridge, Woodstock, Poughkeepsie, and Kingston] NY for 21 years. Many of the people I worked with [and was friends with] are still there. Many of the things I helped to start [the Taste of New Paltz, for instance, and the off-site arts displays for another] are still there as well. I’m proud to say that I also was peripherally part of the inspiration for the Kingston O+ festival- a gleam of light in the world.

            The people from local businesses who worked with me on those programs/ ideas are still there as well. But there is a huge influx of “City folk” in New Paltz at this point, partly thanks to the post-911 maps that showed the fallout range for a nuke in NYC ended just south of New Paltz [I kid you not], and partly because it and its environs became a chic place to live [I have tales of Bobby DeNiro coming up to me while I was painting on the street, f'r'instance].

            The main reason I no longer live in the area is that the taxes are through the roof. Well, and many of my friends hopped a few towns to the next place that’s up-n-coming, Rosendale. All of that happened because of gentrification- people moved in, built huge mansions [I worked on a few of them][couple-million-dollar places][halfway through the tour of one of them I became disgusted and couldn't stand to see the rest]. The mansion-folks then demanded some changes to infrastructure, etc. All of which pushed things higher. At one point, you couldn’t buy a plate of pasta in the restaurants in town without paying $25 [which was formerly ludicrous].

            The same thing happened to farming families in the town where I grew up- Rhinebeck- when it became popular, so I’m not saying that it’s strictly related to artists [per our previous exchange]. But some of the Old Timers in Rhinebeck did very well for themselves and are still there, and a great deal of what makes the town a chic spot is its character- which ironically has been sanitized and turned somewhat conformist. More ironically, my mom has been a major force for historical preservation and community activism there, and that work [by many there] is part of the reason the place has become so upscale.

            I’m rambling, sorry, it’s been a long day. I think that artists have been underpaid in this society [I refuse to call it a culture] for far too long, and that is part of the reason that it’s easy to claim a pervading mentality of victimhood, as if it were somehow false because it’s so prevalent.

            The reverse is true. There’s a reason that artists feel victimized in this country. Friends of mine in Europe and the rest of the planet not only make a living doing what I do, but get subsidized for it as well. It’s normal and expected, there.

            The US placed LAST among Western developed nations in arts funding BEFORE Jesse Helms used Maplethorpe as the poster child for his campaign against culture, and it’s gone far, far downhill in the intervening decades.

            The majority of the funding that was cut was to school programs that taught kids. I’m living in Central Kansas. Everybody I’ve met here stopped getting any kind of art instruction- or even art history classes- in the second grade. They certainly don’t understand it.

            The arts and culture of this nation are pathetically undernourished. Back in the day, the fascists used to shoot the intellectuals and the artists. Nowadays, they just murder us by attrition, via dumbing-down.

            Meanwhile the corporatists are doing their best to loot the last of our greatness for their profit margins [see: Detroit Museum and TPP copyright evisceration], and since the measure of greatness of a nation is to be found in its creativity- which is discouraged in this country right now- we can no longer claim that status.

            History is going to look at this time as a dark age, and the decline in our arts [partly due to a lack of appreciation, partly due to commodification and gatekeeping by political interests] will be the barometric reading.

            Okay, I’m sorry I have rambled so far afield, I’m shutting up for the night. Fibro brains are my excuse, and I’m sticking with that.

          • PrinceGeorge says:

            Jennifer, there is no need to apologize for yourself, for your opinion, for what you express! You are wise, intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. You do not need to apologize for these traits. If others find them offensive, the issue lies with those individulas, not you.

    • This is an aside, but I’m a lateral thinking person, so please forgive the digression:
      >>Millicent Accardi
      “…For the first time, the federal government is including the arts in its measurement of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) — and the preliminary findings contain a few surprises: “According to these new estimates, 3.2 percent — or $504 billion — of current-dollar GDP in 2011 was attributable to arts and culture!”<<


      One of the hazards for creatives living in this society is the dismissal of the importance of the work we do, and the lack of understanding regarding the many levels we affect. It's heartening to see that an attempt to make some measurement has finally been attempted.


  35. skezag says:

    face it, mr. byrne, few know who you are today and those that do are too busy trying to keep head above water to worship at the alter — or buy your records. everything’s changed and just as it was in 1977, those 25 and under rule the roost. it hurts, i know it does.

  36. smsalvino says:

    I think, subliminally, you want to be in Hudson. I don’t blame you. Hudson wants you too.

  37. Danny Brody says:

    I don’t get it. I’m surrounded by excited, creative people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and up (me), and I’ve never been so in love with this town. If you can’t feel it, then hell yeah, you probably don’t belong here. My rent is not crazy and yes, I live in a loft in Bushwick. There’s a piece like this every week, some cynical crybaby whining about rich people (say it ain’t so, DB!). I’m just happy I can walk down a lonely street at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood and not get jacked. Twenty years ago in Bushwick you wouldn’t make it home from the subway-and forget about 30 years ago, or 40 years ago (esp. on Rivington St, or E.11th, or 113th, etc., where I hung my hat)-you wouldn’t even make it to your stop (or your stoop)!
    As far as art and creativity go, there’s more of that here than ever before-hundreds of artist studios in Bushwick alone. And everyone I meet (filmmakers, animators, painters, musicians, art handlers, actors, writers, bartenders, chefs, construction workers, etc.), is happy, no, grateful, to be part of this creative stew. So there’s some rich people-they pay the taxes! Thank you, and they buy me drinks every now and then.
    It’s NYC, man, there’s room for everyone. Cheer up, and eat more kale-it’s good for youse!

    • DelusionIsACrime says:

      The problem is Danny is the artists got pushed into Bushwick and where is that community getting pushed to? Do you think the low income Blacks and hispanics will just naturally evaporate into thin air? Or perhaps you feel they don’t deserve the neighborhood. Artists moving to Bushwick just means we can’t afford Manahattan or anything relatively close to downtown Brooklyn. Catch a clue. And by the way, depending on how long you’ve lived in Bushwick rents are climbing rapidly to be in line with the very unaffordable Williamsburg. What average family can afford $3500? Understand artists live with the regular people of a city, at some point the the camel’s back will break and it’s already breaking. I’m trapped in my apartment unable to move because the prices have sky rocketed in my neighborhood, yet new luxury buildings are popping up all over the place with their million dollar prices tags, that no one in the area can afford even if they gave up sleeping for the rest of their life and worked 24-hours/day.

      • Danny Brody says:

        Artists got “pushed” into Bushwick? I respectfully disagree. I have artist friends who have lived in Bushwick (and Greenpoint, and LIC and Park Slope and Red Hook) for 20 years (I was living on State St off 3rd Ave in Brooklyn in the early ’80’s). Many of them are even, gasp, black or Hispanic! The artists have a community that has grown, so naturally, wherever artists go, developers are not far behind. That’s what has happened historically, and will continue to happen, until the end of time. Our job is to continue to create and support one another, not blame rich people or poor people for our shortcomings. I am sorry you feel “trapped” in your apartment, but whatever does that mean? You have an apartment, you pay the rent, you go about your business. There are always going to be people, artists or ordinary working-class stiffs like myself (yes I am one of those “regular people”), who are excited to be here, and those who are less excited. BTW, there are still affordable rentals, even in Bushwick, for anyone who’s making any kind of living. And the J train gets me to my job in TriBeCa in 16 minutes. I can also go to my local bars and get $3 drinks! C’mon!!!

        • Queen Esther says:

          We’re all excited to be here, more or less. That’s not the point.

          More and more, New York City is becoming a place where young families can’t afford to live and grow, where art is shown and not developed and where college graduates can’t take root and start their lives. These three basic things are the lifeblood of any city. Take them away and what do you have? An avalanche of tourists and rich people, and rich, old people — and of course, the poor and the underclass that will cook and clean up after all of them, and that will live in the projects or on the outskirts of the city soon enough, thanks to gentrification. New York City will be this glittering masterpiece that everyone will visit but it won’t produce anything. And a city that doesn’t produce anything is dead.

          New York City is not dead yet but it IS dying. That’s the point.

          Maybe you can’t see that this city is dying because you aren’t an artist. Maybe it’s because you don’t know any artists that are actually producing art — they’re calling themselves artists but they’re actually working to pay the rent and stay afloat until the moment comes along that allows them to make art. Maybe “regular people” like you won’t see it until most of the city is basically a museum, of sorts, and the bulk of what drives commerce forward is tourism. The city itself — and all its history and grandeur and film locales and shopping — will be what the city will produce. Not great art.

          Sounds like Paris, doesn’t it.

          From where I stand — as a New York City-based artist that makes art in New York City — all of this pretty obvious.

          • Danny Brody says:

            The nearly 2000 artists who participated in GO Brooklyn might disagree with you. The several hundred who participated in Bushwick Open Studios might have something to say. The ridiculous number of musicians I see play and hang out with might not concur. The writers, actors, and filmmakers who are still flocking here (and while I am one of your cynically-titled “regular people”, I am also a writer and videographer-http://newyorkminutetv.tumblr.com/post/65044544684/write-of-passage-presented-by-mass-appeal-and-red -and yes, it’s possible in NYC to be both) also might disagree with your assessment.

            The number of artists I know who are supporting themselves here ON THEIR ART ALONE, goes well into the triple-digits. And there are many more that I know personally, who have a healthy art/work balance that allows them to create as well as live pretty good lives. I know tons of people who have moved here from the west coast, Miami, Washington, DC, Brazil. Mexico, etc., who are creating, and, since you mentioned it, SELLING work, or playing in bands, or making films, and I see them mingling pretty well with the so-called old guard like yourself. Not everyone is happy to have the competition, but like we used to say, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. Maybe it’s time the old guard moved aside? And please don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

          • Queen Esther says:

            Like I said, we’re all happy to be here, more or less. Obviously, that includes me. That isn’t my point.

            I also said New York City is not dead. I know plenty of artists and musicians who are working and thriving, too – probably because I’m one of them. By the way: if you were in the “creative stew” in the 70s and 80s, you are very much a part of the old guard, not me. No need to play the cultural doorman or even hint that an art arbiter is necessary to show me out. It’s not for you to say when and where I enter.

            So, yes the city is full of working artists (even if a lot of them have to work 2 or 3 jobs to be able to make their art, or spend most of their time on the road) – but that isn’t my point, either.

            My point is that this city is dying. THAT is my point.

            Anyone that’s actually paying attention can hear the death rattle. Some of us have been listening to that death rattle for a long time. The fact that YOU can’t – or choose not to – doesn’t’ mean that it isn’t happening or that it isn’t real.

            Perhaps members of the old guard as well as artists from the city should come up with solutions to make this place more hospitable to artists. But I suppose that’s impossible to do when so many of them can’t even acknowledge that there’s a serious problem in the first place.

            This article – “Artists fleeing the city” in Crain’s sums it up completely — and that was in 2010.


            My favorite quote from this article:

            Industry experts worry that New York will become a place where art is presented but not made, turning the city into an institutionalized sort of Disney Land. One arts executive says it could become “a Washington, D.C.,” a sterile, planned city with a number of cultural institutions but few artists—certainly not a place known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.

            Indeed, the loss of the city’s creative sector could take away New York’s status as an innovator and hurt numerous industries that rely on this group, from advertising to Broadway.

            “The artist drain is one of the city’s biggest problems,” says Ted Berger, executive director of New York Creates. “You need a creative talent pool from which all industries can draw. When you’ve lost that, you’re not keeping your competitive advantage.”

          • Danny Brody says:

            Speaking of Woody Allen-from 1977’s “Annie Hall”:

            Alvy: (sadly) So what – you-you’re not gonna come back to New York?
            Annie: What’s so great about New York? I mean, it’s a dying city. You read Death in Venice.

            Somehow New York has survived :)

          • Queen Esther says:

            Oh, this city WILL survive, there’s absolutely no question about that.

            The question is, as what — “a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends” or “a sterile, planned city with a number of cultural institutions but few artists.”

            Just about everything is pointing towards the latter.

          • Danny Brody says:

            Well, Esther, you may be right, but I certainly hope you are wrong. Good luck, and keep the faith!

          • Queen Esther says:

            Good luck to you, too.

        • nhr215 says:

          Let me guess Danny. You’re like what, 25? You speak with the naiveté, arrogance, excitement, and optimism of a young lad. Let’s see how the creative stew feels in 20 years. That is the perspective DB is coming from.

  38. SLee says:

    You don’t need NY. A musician can always find a home in NOLA

  39. Dan says:

    Indie comic book writer born and raised in NY; I definitely moved to CA ‘cos I couldn’t afford it.

  40. EDI_NYC says:

    If you ask me it was the “FRIENDS” TV show that brought down NYC. All those college kids watching the show. Thinking owe why don’t we move to NYC and be like them.
    When they got here ( one daddy’s dime) they didn’t add to what they city had to offer. They turned it into their campus. You know who you are.

    • Rotinwa Ayodeji says:

      This sent me rolling, sides splintered with laughter. Surely you jest…

    • NativebornEastVillager says:

      Exactly! Don’t forget Sex and the City. That was the nail in the coffin. I was talking to someone in the coffee shop and they said that she and her 6 sorority girlfriends from Georgia Tech all moved up to NYC together last year and got a place. It’s a 2 year vacay for them while they vomit through the weekend and I slip on in it in the morning.

  41. Retro72 says:

    Oh shut up David and just get back with Talking Heads already. The guy writes a commentary about the demise of NYC in Venice. Give me a break. Wow he really has a pulse to the heart of our city.

  42. Nikko Gibler says:

    Design District in LA is THE PLACE TO BE RIGHT NOW. JUST WATCH. BAM.

  43. Luke Gublo says:

    You’re always welcome in Fort Worth, David… I know you spent some time here producing the movie “True Stories” back in the 1980s, and that really was a testament to your ability to size up the development and planning of physical spaces. We’re doing some exciting things here (we’re a fairly bike friendly city), but much much more needs to be done to encourage public transit here.

  44. Joseph Hanania says:

    When I moved to the Lower East Side from Santa Monica, where I lived five blocks from the beach for 20 years, most of my friends there were sure I would return in a year, two max. Three years later, I am still in NYC. The reason: New York’s energy, which is amazing compared to anyplace else. Whenever I got off the plane from California, I could feel it, like a jolt of adrenaline. It was too addictive; I had to come back.
    Having grown up on a much funkier upper West side before moving to California, I sometimes share in the nostalgia about what had been. The reality, though, is when I go now to the West side, I see a huge difference between areas newly sodded with grass, and the mud patches with a few blades of grass I remember from childhood. I will take the new grass any day. I also no longer witness, as I did back then, a Puerto Rican teen-ager holding up a garbage can lid to defend himself against police bullets which killed him, as his mother came out of her home and wailed in the street. Violence is way down, which affects not only those who are victims of violence, but those who witness it.
    Yes, the city is becoming less economically and culturally diverse, but today’s added safety also makes the diversity that is left – and there is still much – accessible.
    So yes, other cities, like Santa Monica, may be prettier with palm trees and oceans and mountains. But New York is still far more exciting and accessible than anywhere else. And although I, too, would like to see more economic and cultural diversifaction, I will take the new and improved version of the city over the old one I grew up in any day.
    Thanks, however, for a thought provoking article.

  45. gwvanderleun says:

    ” If New York goes there—more than it already has—I’m leaving.” Door. Ass. Bang.

  46. Chris in HK says:

    As someone living in Hong Kong I am shocked by your comment. I might expect it from a finance industry expat who shuttles between work and the bars of Lan Kwai Fong. That David Byrne, a man who has made a career of exploring culture through music has never bothered to scratch the surface of this city, this is truly disappointing. The old crumbling eateries of Wong Tai Sin and Sham Shui Po, the fortune tellers of Temple Street, the old men of bird street who bring their songbirds with them from home to sing for whomever will listen, the vast expanses of the New Territories with their hiking trails and wilderness, the islands and their fishing villages where people live calm, simple lives… this is Hong Kong. And of course, there is music. From a small but thriving underground club scene to traditional Chinese opera, the music of Hong Kong is as diverse as the city itself. Really Mr. Byrne, as someone who grew up with your music, I am deeply disappointed that you would so glibly dismiss such a thriving, culturally vibrant city.

  47. retro72 says:

    I can only imaginge him sharing this with us this while sipping an Italian coffee from his hotel suite overlooking the Grand Canal. How nice!

  48. retro72 says:

    It is not sex that he smells in the streets of nyc. It is urine.

  49. Choo says:

    It’s not just the 1% and it is not just NYC. I think that much of the world lives in such a technological age of apathy and ease that those sparks of brilliance you pine for find it hard to burn. Many other billions are working themselves to death suppling the goods. The world is out of balance in so many ways. Someday people will awake, organize, and change like so many other times in human history.


    What about Detroit as another city to consider to move to? We think the city has MAJOR potential and is actually in need of a fresh wave of young creatives and professionals to help re-define its future. Learn more here: http://www.playgrounddetroit.com

  51. KTK says:

    Can anyone recommend a good Starbucks in Manhattan?

  52. Chris Vodola says:

    Is David Byrne talking about New York City, or about himself?

  53. ckporter says:

    I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia… I’m not an artist, nor do I have the means to buy expensive art but I’m fascinated by the motivating forces behind creative minds and I’m certainly concerned with the economic realities of one of the most important cities in our country. My general observation is that NYC appears to be a trap for young professionals… unless you are in a favorable circle, the allure of NYC is better than the reality. The allure for professionals is wealth and prosperity through hard work and a plethora of social outlets to connect with other professionals. I may be wrong but it seems like the reality is long hours (unhealthy), unreasonable costs of living and a pace that you won’t be able to keep up with long-term (70 hour work weeks and unfulfilled promises will eventually break your spirit). Companies seem to hire young talent, work them to death and string them along with promises of equity stakes and visions of grandeur. Those are professionals… I’m not quite sure how an artist would survive in NY. I have friends who are artists that have settled in places like Oregon and Chicago – none of them were able to afford NY. There’s obviously a huge audience in NY but if an artist has to work two low-paying jobs to afford life in NY, where can he/she find the time to flex his/her creative muscle? It just seems like the wealth creation machine churns too hard to allow for things like creativity and affordability to exist. In this day and age, I’m not sure why an artist would choose NY when he could choose some place more affordable and less demanding. My $0.02.

  54. batnib says:

    There’s a lot of truth in this column. Though I do think there actually has been somewhat of a backlash against finance, with more creative types pursuing startups and entrepreneurial careers rather than finance, law or consulting, the reality is that the cost of New York, in addition to the New York political machinery (which is very good at blocking innovation and progress….we might have made even greater changes over the last twelve years were it not for the nature of deep entrenched interests)….the cost of living in New York, really does stifle the artistic and creative communities, or at least push them outside of of Manhattan. And it matters for the life of a city, that it possess creativity. Creativity is the root of problem solving. It is the root of innovation….it is the root of progress. So if we don’t find ways to support creativity, new businesses etc., we’re doing ourselves a disservice. I’d also add that many of the people who can afford to be entrepreneurs in NYC are people who have other sources of income….so thinking in terms of pure talent allocation, I wonder how many exceptional talents NYC deters because they don’t have additional sources of income that allow them to more successfully nourish their talents. And with real estate being such a game….I remember when I moved to NYC twenty-five years ago….you heard live music EVERYWHERE….it was so easy to access…but so many of the live music venues have closed, or have moved very far from the center of the city….it is insane to me that if I want to hear an up and coming, not yet made it live act, that I would have to travel an extra forty-five minutes to find it…..and that matters for a city as well, because we are nourished by culture and art and music….these are the things that are common and central to our humanity, that shared experience that causes people who might not otherwise think they have anything in common, who may be prejudiced against one another, to realize that in fact they have their very humanity in common. So I don’t think this is an overstatement….and I would like to see many more people commenting and talking about this….because it does in fact matter, and is not neoliberal rich people whining about the way things were, but about where we’re headed with so little sense of our past and what it contributed….

  55. blasphematic says:

    And yeah, oh yeah: apparently Richard Florida’s nonsense is exactly that: nonsense. How can we build an economy based on the “creative class,” if the “creative class” can’t even pay its rent?

  56. DeepBrown says:

    One would think that the age of the internet would put an end to this city-patriotism. You don’t have to live in New York to be creative and successful, but you can move and work there once you are. Of course it doesn’t make things worse if you can go there earlier and get supported in every possible respect, but why is that necessary? I don’t consider myself a barbarian because I think that inspiration doesn’t necessarily depend on the place where it is first conceived.

    • Diana Rosalind Trimble says:

      Well fucking said! I could not agree with you more. At the risk of repeating myself (I just posted a reply to someone else above), I see no lure of the scenes of places like New York anymore. I was lucky enough, I guess, to live there and other now-expired places such as San Francisco, when there were still little pockets of affordability and space for creatives. But all that is gone now. As far as major cities go, Berlin is still happening as a place that is vibrant, affordable and fun. The downside is that places where rent is cheap and space plentiful tend to also be places where it’s hard to make money. So Berlin is a good place to live, if you want to live in a capital city on the cheap, but you have to get out to make money.

      You also make a good point about how the Internet has freed us from a lot of the necessity of being “on the scene”. Perhaps not true for all disciplines, but certainly works for writing, music and video.

      Personaly, I don’t need some nightlife scene or gallery scene (hate!) in order to inspire me – I need good food, beautiful surroundings, physical and mental space and freedom to make noise. All of these factors I find in rural locations. Trees, fields and clean air mean way more to me as an artist, than feeling cool as I stroll down some rat-infested corner of the Bowery! I know I need to get to cities in order to perform and be involved, but the idea that it is somehow crucial to live in one seems very outmoded. Jonathan Frantzen is another one who promotes this nonsense that the urban world is somehow more legitimate as an artistic context, to which I say bollocks, you clearly haven’t learned how to be alone with yourself!

      While I appreciate him speaking out on behalf of the poor artist, I find it bewildering that David Byrne, having made so much money and thus able to experience any lifestyle he can imagine, still thinks that New York is “it”. It’s a stale stuck-in-the-mud position that reminds me of a lot of artist friends I have back in SF who are in a blind fury about the insane cost of living there and having emergency meetings and stuff trying to stop the inevitable. I say, “forget it!”: cities that sell their souls to the highest bidders will reap their own bitter rewards as they become monoculture shopping mall horrors with no underground except the criminal one. I for one, do not give a shit and advocate the nomadic life, roaming and moving every few years, to find new and fresh places to live and create without either becoming part of, or being in service to, the status quo.

      I guess I am lucky that I have both a European and US passport so I can live over here, but to the US-based artists I would advise making a new scene in a depressed place such as Detroit where I have heard they are giving away houses to writers for 500 bucks. Screw New York!

  57. 8lackie says:

    Let’s see….what is David Byrne worth? 10,20,30 million? I think you lose your license to be a member of said creative establishment when your income is no longer proportional to the chill of a coldwater flat.

    • Nancy Hall says:

      As he said, he got lucky. But he started out just like the rest of us.That means he’s seen the situation from several perspectives. He’s more than qualified to talk about it.

  58. BethK says:

    Brilliant article, succinctly summing up my own fears for London as I see gentrification taking over former creative boroughs like Soho and Spitalfields, slowly being taken over by upmarket burger joints and retro-chic, overpriced restaurants, let alone the corporates and real estate vultures. Artists who have made some cash should do what Tracey Emin did a few years ago – she spent about £4 million on a whole street of old warehouses to stop the corporates getting in and inflating the property prices, enabling cheap rent for struggling artists.

    • Diana Rosalind Trimble says:

      Your fears for London??? London is already a total corpse, a graveyard, a black hole! It already is what New York is becoming more every day: a necropolis – slash – playground for the superwealthy; a depressing slave camp for the working poor; a hostile territory for creatives. The years I spent in London recently were the most miserable and deprived of my entire adult life and I left there loathing it with a passion rarely felt. It is simply not possible to live decently and have the time to create in a city that caters to oligarchs and Saudi princes, where everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is not only extremely overpriced but of dubious quality. OK, at the very, very upper range of price you can find good stuff (Claridges anyone?) but London remains the only major city I have ever been in where it is possible to spend a LOT of money on dinner and have it be crap. Real crap. My conclusion, like one of the posters below on here, is that there is really no reason to live in places like New York or London if you are a non-wealthy creative. I get zero energy from the supposed buzz of such places. I like beauty, nature, peace and the ability to play music without somebody calling the cops. So I gave up on the cities 6 years ago and I have never regretted it. I would rather dip in and extract money from NYC than live there starving and desperate. Mr. Byrne wants to save New York from irrelevance as a place of creativity? It’s already WAY over baby!

  59. Trapvet says:

    I disagree with David to some extent. Yes it’s nice to have lower crime. But gentrification/Disney-fication/Peoria-zation of NYC has ruined some neighborhoods and almost completely driven out the locals.

    I walked down Bleecker for the first time in ages and it looked like any suburban downtown with Abercrombie, large drug stores and a definite loss of its counter-culture, anything-goes feel. I guess that’s progress but many parts of Manhattan feel like Rodeo Drive now. Yuck.

  60. Marcus DiLauro says:

    Wow, Ok at work – so briefly: Reading the comments below is a little disturbing – anyone “defending” NYC really is so out of touch with reality that they need to read David Byrne’s article and THINK for a while. He doesn’t want to “move beyond what NYC has to offer” @facebook-100000521066522:disqus , or give up on NYC @normanbschwartz:disqus, and NYC is not safer because a relatively few are super wealthy (also #stopandfrisk) and that MUST be the trade-off @dannybrody:disqus – clearly you all have something to protect, or feel that you do, and are not accepting (or aware of) the simple truths Mr. Byrne is speaking about. That is, the rent is too damn high; the cost of living is pushing dynamic and underrepresented voices away from the table more than 10/20/30 years ago; and what is happening in the economy is readily visible in the arts/culture/creation industries……

  61. Jice says:

    And yet, NYC is more affordable than San Francisco.

  62. robert w. petrick says:

    The article was a great and honest commentary. I’m also an artist that lives and loves NYC. I’ve seen it change since I arrived here in 1983. I saw the excitment when I came here especially before things like the Aids epidemic swept through the city not to mention 911. Many thought the city was dead after that but we have come back. Now David has shed light on something that could destroy our spirit In a much more subtle, insidious way. I hope he is right and there is still a chance to create a new vibrance. I and will remain optimistic.

  63. julieg says:

    Well said. Similar situation in San Francisco and its close-in suburbs. i could no longer afford the cost of housing there and moved to Pittsburgh, PA. Housing prices are roughly 75% lower than SF. Decent economy. Lots of artists. I think rust belt cities, New Orleans and other less expensive cities will draw creative people who want an urban life at an affordable price. I am thrilled to live in a place where I can afford the home of my dreams and not have to stress out every month about how i’m going to pay all my bills.

  64. William Klitgaard says:

    The creative world is supported by someone. Who? In the days of Florence (and I suppose in Venice too) the mega rich were the patrons…maybe in NYC it’s the same. The source of creativity and vibrancy is equally shared by those who have the innate desire / energy / passion, and those who recognize them and support them.

  65. Nat Scientist says:

    NYC is one of the perfect places to expose one’s extreme disparities with no special notice, but not enough unspoiled nature to always be telling the whole truth.

  66. Bill Wesley says:


    When you can no longer make anything of your own but rely instead on taking from otheres as does the “financial” sector this is what you move toward becoming, our culture is on a path of predatory hatred that will eventually destroy it, Assyria was utterly eradicated for its lack of creativity in anything but cruelty and lust

  67. Calvin Falk says:

    Check out film director Jennifer DeLia’s new blog! Her and Julie
    Pacino’s company poverty row entertainment is one to pay attention to.
    Their film BILLY BATES is coming out in early 2014 — all about art and
    channeling demons into beauty. And their next film is a Mary Pickford
    biopic starring Lily Rabe & Michael Pitt! Here’s a link – http://www.jenniferdeliablog.wordpress.com.

  68. Edwin Roman says:

    I am a native New York and I am here to say that there is indeed culture and life outside of New York City. Visit Santa Fe and stroll along Canyon Road and I promise that you will be satisfied and inspired.

  69. what says:

    question for artists.. who supports you? Isn’t it rich people? Most “regular” people don’t “like” or “get” a lot of the awful work that passes for art these days… It seems like the artisan class would be completely unsustainable if there were no group of people with immensely disposable income

    • Diana Rosalind Trimble says:

      If you are talking about the world of visual art, then I agree with you.
      However, there are other, more egalitarian, art forms, such as live music, dance and the experimental performance arts. These aren’t made for or by the rich and they are what creates a participatory scene (much more than the static world of visual art, made to be passively observed). Such things are not viable in high-rent districts. New York was done and dusted a long time ago. Shed no tears – life goes on.

  70. pzo says:

    On a much smaller scale, same thing has happened here in Sarasota, Florida. After John Ringling put this fishing village on the arts maps, and the Ringling School of Art, all manners of both aspiring and accomplished writers, painters, and actors lived here in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Then the money moved in.

    My parents attended theater at the 16th Century Asolo Theater, part of the Ringling Complex, many times per season. Very middle class and then retired. Tickets are now $80. If still alive, there is no way they could justify $160 for two hours or less of entertainment. I sure can’t!

    All that Mr. Byrnes observed and what’s happened here is due to the new income inequality. So, let’s be sure to cut food stamps.

  71. Josh says:

    Perhaps, as something of a New York ambassador and part of the creative vanguard, it is worth starting an organization to help connect those profiting from the financial and business world with young and emerging creative types of all sorts. I’m sure plenty would love to be a part of a resurgent upstart cultural scene in addition to buying their blue-chip pieces.

  72. Ron Throop says:

    Pop bubbles like Christies and the MoMA and art as local profession will survive.

    Otherwise New York will continue with Jeff Koons Sodom dreams.

  73. David says:

    Mr. Byrne… If you don’t like it, then stop bitching and start creating music in NYC!

  74. artist who fled says:

    you forgot to mention that the owners of those empty apartments pay ny state, and federal taxes as well as ny city taxes. They contribute so be careful what you say. Tehy have to follow tax rules too. Question is “where does the money go”

  75. gvanderleun says:

    Then the Duke stands up and beats his chest.
    Says “I made it.Why can’t all the rest?
    You got nothing to lose
    But the shine on your shoes.”

  76. gvanderleun says:

    “… then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi ” My ass, David. My ass. Work a little bit harder at pulling probable examples out of thy seething cranium.

  77. Roughtown says:

    Please do not talk poorly about David Byrne. He pulled my family from a burning building. Twice. I have heard people talk about this New York City before but I always thought they were making it up. It’s a real place?

  78. Gunnar Wordon says:

    As a resident of expat hipster Hudson, I can safely say its not all that hip. Go beyond warren street and see the high rises and slums.

  79. [...] October of 2013, David Byrne, a writer and co-founder of the Talking Heads, published an essay entitled “Will Work For Inspiration” that discuses the rich systematically closing New York City’s traditionally creative spaces in [...]

  80. CJ says:

    Rockaway Beach.

  81. livingcity says:

    All sad but too true.

  82. CBlosangeles says:

    Do what I did and move to Los Angeles.

  83. Ted Collins says:

    “The bully was celebrated and cheered..” scathing. Sounds like a title for an art form.

  84. Hi, I do think this is a great website. I stumbledupon it ;) I will come back once again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.

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