Meatpacking as a Designated Arts District

-Hannah Reimann

An increasing number of tourists and locals come to the Meatpacking area to attend events and exhibits at The Whitney Museum and Little Island.  Free concerts and numerous cultural events abound these days. The  area’s character is changing as the meatpackers depart.

Couture shops like Hermès and Helmut Lang are paying enormous rents to attract these sophisticated people who love live music, art and fashion. Artists who have studios in the Chelsea and the Village are concerned that they may be pushed out by higher rents. Most artists cannot afford any studio space in the area. In addition to the free concerts on Little Island that people enjoy now, they would also like indoor music events for the winter months and for the city to provide free or reduced-rent spaces where artists can work and exhibit their art. The Meatpacking area has many empty commercial spaces now including well-lit storefronts, ideal for nurturing local artistic talent.

A stream of tourists and locals are pouring through the Meat Packing District on the way to free concerts on Little Island and the once decaying area is sprouting French couturier shops and the promise of becoming an artist community. Pictured here, Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Photo credit: Hannah Reimann

I reached out to the following individuals to get statements and a pulse from our community in order to create city support for an arts district in the Meatpacking area.

Anita Durst, Co-founder and Artistic Director of ChaShaMa, an award-winning arts and real estate advocacy organization for 27 years that provides temporary free spaces for artists in NYC

“If the presence of artist spaces can stimulate enough economic growth to increase property values in a specific area, I believe landlords would be willing to explore the idea. I see more real estate developers taking an active interest in the art world, so I believe it’s possible.

Artists have more opportunities than ever to work in NYC. When Chashama first opened, artists didn’t have all the opportunities they have today. All the gallery exhibitions, Lobby art placements, business improvement districts, public art displays, and so many more. For artists living and working in the village, it’s become more difficult for them to afford spaces and they’re moving upstate and to the outer boroughs. But there are still opportunities for them to live comfortably and exhibit work.

Artists come to NYC because of the dream. I believe that artists are now able to fulfill their dreams more easily due to numerous resources at their disposal: organizational and nonprofit support, grants and financial aid opportunities, artist residencies, a strong network of fellow artists.

Chashama has always received a large number of applications. As we’ve expanded and become more widely known, there’s always been an increase in applications. Last year, we received 3000 applications!

In 1989 in the Meatpacking District, with my mentor Reza Abdoh and En Garde Arts, we produced a show called Father was a Peculiar Man”. There was a cast of 60 as well as a full band. Some of the characters were Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Buster Keaton, JFK, as well as many others. This spectacular experience took place on Gansevoort & Little West 12th Street. In later years, Chashama has performed at many of the nightclub venues like Mother but never had larger collaborations with artist studios, galleries, or performance spaces.

In addition to the Meatpacking district, there are many areas of NYC with vibrant arts communities: SOHO, Tribeca, Dumbo, Bushwick, Long Island City, and Harlem, just to name a few. So it’s hard to choose only one. But obviously, I’m partial to the Meatpacking district.”

Anita Durst at the opening of Art to Ware, located at the Oculus, with artists and designers.
Photo by Rohit Venkatraman

Adam Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, The Whitney Museum

“The Whitney is proud to be part of the rich and vibrant cultural community thriving downtown. Projects such as the rotating outdoor art installation on the facade of 95 Horatio Street, the Day’s End installation by David Hammons at Gansevoort Peninsula in Hudson River Park, our annual Pride celebration, and the transformation of Roy Lichtenstein’s studio into a new permanent home of our Independent Study Program all welcome neighbors, art, artists, and art lovers to engage with what clearly is a  unique, must-see, hub for culture. We continue to look forward to what comes next.”

Jeffrey C. LeFrancois, Executive Director, Meatpacking District Management Association “Arts and Culture are already at home in the Meatpacking District and the neighborhood plays a role in the development of art happenings and trends being set in and around the city, be it on a canvas or a runway. It makes sense to have the conversation [about the Meatpacking area becoming an arts district]. I can’t speak for property owners, but many in the area believe that art is critical to the success of any neighborhood.

[In terms of a designated arts district] There is a lot that would have to happen to make that happen. We’d need to understand whether NYC or NYS has interest to even do it. NYC spends more on arts and culture than any city in the country, from the Met, MoMA down to tiny cultural groups that provide after school programming.

Zach Weinstein, Village resident and Meatpacking community activist, filmmaker of the upcoming documentary, Coronavirus Diary NYC, co-organizer of Save Gansevoort, and co-chair of The Greenwich Village Community Task Force “A Gansevoort Market Arts District could be an interesting idea, but the devil is in the details. How do you insure that such a district actually helps struggling artists and doesn’t become just another corporate branding project?”

Roberto Monticello in the Meatpacking District Photo credit: Chris Manis

This article was inspired by Roberto Monticello, Meatpacking activist and filmmaker, who is now shooting Children of the Night, a documentary about human trafficking in NYC and environs. Monticello has lived in the area for 48 years. According to Monticello, in 1996-97 there was a movement to rezone the Meatpacking district to allow the construction of high-rise buildings and a plan to erect 11 towers there. Community Board 2 wanted the prevent this from happening. Many of the Board members were in their 80s and 90s then and they asked him for his help. He was an energetic attendee of CB2 meetings, as well as an activist at that time. The Horatio Street Association gave him a petition that he delivered to Mayor Bloomberg which pressed the Mayor to limit the height of any new construction. The city decided to give landmark status to Meatpacking so that the buildings east of Washington Street in the area could not be more than six stories high.

 

Roberto Monticello in the Meatpacking District Photo credit: Chris Manis

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