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Galleries abandoning North Brooklyn for cheaper pastures

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Williamsburg is no longer an arts community.

Two of the last bastions of artistic creation in North Brooklyn are closing this month after providing performance and exhibition space to thousands of artists over the past seven years.

Secret Project Robot, an arts space on Kent Avenue that regularly hosted experimental art installations, and Not An Alternative, a co-working space on Havemeyer Street known as a hub for neighborhood activism, will move to Bushwick and Greenpoint, respectively, after finding themselves priced out.

Secret Project Robot’s lease ran out this summer after seven years. The building’s owner, the Chetrit Group, plans to tear down the entire block-long complex, which includes music studios, a screenprinting shop and a surfing store, to build a retail space for a grocery store, a real-estate source said.

A specialty barber shop will be replacing Not an Alternative’s storefront, which is across the street from the Knitting Factory, a slew of pricey restaurants and bars, and a high-end salon.

“This is a dramatically changing neighborho­od,” said Not an Alternative’s Beka Economopoulos, whose rent shot up from $2,400 to $6,000 per month in August. “The hipster is on its way out and there is a new breed of resident here now.”

And what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Artists first moved to the neighborhood’s northside and waterfront in the 1970s, attracted to large warehouses that once housed working factories.

Over the next 20 years, they converted these buildings into lofts and art studios. By 1990 there were an estimated 2,000 artists living in Williamsburg.

In the 1990s, a handful of galleries led by Pierogi Gallery on N. Ninth Street and Eyewash on N. Seventh Street opened, and artists such as Fred Tomaselli, David Opdyke, Lisa Hein and Bob Seng began to receive more attention from the art world.

But as more artists and young professionals moved into Williamsburg over the next decade, the common New York plotline played out: new stores opened and real-estate prices began to rise.

The neighborhood’s rezoning in 2005 further encouraged condo development, pricing out hardscrabble artists and art spaces.

The latest closures are part of a downward trend in the art gallery world. Momenta Art, Nurture Art, and Cinders Gallery have decamped from Williamsburg in search of cheaper spaces further east and north.

Momenta Art and Nurture Art have relocated to a loft building on Grattan Street in East Williamsburg while Cinders is looking for a new home.

“Times around here are difficult for art spaces,” said Marissa Sage, founder of Like the Spice Gallery. “It makes sense that they’re moving. It’s cheaper in Bushwick and more experimental spaces are moving there because they don’t have to worry as much for rent.”

Williamsburg art critic Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic said that the change isn’t necessarily for the worse and pointed to several “polished” galleries quietly popping up in north Brooklyn including Rawson Projects, Soloway Gallery and Devotion Gallery.

“The lower rents of Bushwick allow more experimental and less-commercial spaces like Cinders and Secret Project Robot to mount their types of shows, and that’s great, but I don’t think they’re the same thing,” said Vartanian.

But Cinders’ co-founder Kelie Bowman worries that “blue-chip” galleries will ignore newcomers in favor of established artists.

“So many of my favorite places to see art have disappeared,” said Bowman. “Now the galleries are less likely to risk doing shows with emerging artists. How does the working artist provide for themselves when they are not selling to the mega rich?”

Economopoulos, who is moving her space to a third-floor warehouse building off West Street, is optimistic that her venture will keep North Brooklynites engaged in political and social activism. But she is still shocked at how fast Williamsburg has changed.

“At our space we were dedicated to how we can leverage our role as hipsters to do something about [gentrific­ation],” said Economopoulos. “But we fell victim to the very narrative that we aimed to intercept.”

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Reader Feedback

gimme from around says:
really now
Sept. 14, 2011, 7:51 am
O2 from wburg says:
if the hipsters were so engaged, why didnt they vote to elect a dem in NY9?
Sept. 14, 2011, 9:03 am
the cartographer says:
Perhaps because very few hipsters live in the Ninth. Do you need a geography lesson, O2? Here's a district map:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_District_09_109th_US_Congress.png
Sept. 14, 2011, 12:12 pm
Hipsters aren't registered in NY from Bushwick says:
9/10 of the hipsters are registered to vote out of state. So it makes sense that they aren't politically active. They are here temporarily. I love the artists and hipsters they make my neighborhood safer and trendier, however I do not like the Real Estate people pricing out others in the neighborhood so that they can make a couple thousand dollars more. It is so unfair!!
Sept. 14, 2011, 1:27 pm
Spiritross from Greenpoint says:
I like how she embraces the concept of Hipster.

Anyone who is Liberal creative in their 20-30s is a Hipster. Really just because that is the word that denies people of the 21st century that are anti establishment-just like beat hippie punk bboy in years past.

But it is identified with a negative connotation.

In fact the hipster is one of the first major countercultures that has denied their identity.

Usually the only real definition for a hipster is someone who mocks the existence of hipster.

It's an odd sociological phenomena that every one denies that which they are in the past 10 years.
Sept. 14, 2011, 2:12 pm
Ant from Greenpoint/Williamsburg says:
Really, this is a story? This happens and has happened for 150 years. It's just how it works. Gentrification. Old, less polished art galleries move out and the newer, more polished move in. Artists move in and make an area safe and attractive - everything else follows. More experimental galleries move to another, more affordable area and the same thing happens. Then, guess what? You move again. Stop being ignorant or crying special. It's just how it is.
Sept. 14, 2011, 2:25 pm
Ant from Greenpoint/Williamsburg says:
Or, you know what else could happen? You start making money as a gallery yourself and stay. Failing in that regard and having to move, well, no sympathy.
Sept. 14, 2011, 2:26 pm
Gomba Stefano from Park Slope says:
Maybe the hipsters can invade another safe, working class New York City community and displace older residents resident in a local neighborhood and complain when they are in turn displaced! I didn't know that rich white kids who graduated from NYU or SVA or Rhode Island School of Design is the new definition of hipster. Instead of moving on to Bushwick, they can move back to Ohio or wherever they came from.
Sept. 14, 2011, 4:04 pm
Andrew from Northside says:
@ the cartographer

You get an A . Also, I voted.
Sept. 14, 2011, 5:31 pm
Jason from BILLYburg says:

So the gentrifying horde who moved in to Williamsburg has it done to them, and like time immortal, they cry about what they have lost, pack their bags and scurry away. Sooner or later they'll turn 35 and realize the were nothing much to begin with. Welcome to reality hipsters! I've been waiting for the day you were just old and irrelevant and that day has finally come!
Sept. 14, 2011, 7:02 pm
manhatman from manhatland says:
Gomba Stefano from Park Slope says:
"Maybe the hipsters can invade another safe, working class New York City community and displace older residents resident in a local neighborhood..."

Without them there would be no police presence. Perhaps you want urban decay & violence.
Sept. 15, 2011, 2:02 pm
JRo from UWS says:
Hipsters will never be irrelevant as they will simply be called something new. I always wonder what the next rendition of beat, bboy, cool cat, hepicat, hippie, etc. would become. They are an essential population that gives new life to areas that are down and out. Williamsburg/Greenpoint was not a nice place before their arrival. It is a natural phenomenon. I just wish they would discover the Lower Hudson Valley faster than they are. YONKERS! BRONX! HAVERSTRAW! NEWBURGH! Get up there people, and you will be surprised at how awesome it could be.
Sept. 15, 2011, 2:05 pm
valerie_nyc from Gramercy/Murray Hill says:
Is there anything Hipsters don't ruin?
Sept. 17, 2011, 2:21 am
Kathleen Laziza from Boerum Hill says:
25 years ago when our political advisors told us to move Micro Museum to Williamsburg instead of Boerum Hill. We declined since we were able to buy the commercial real estate at 123 Smith Street and make good on our everlasting hipster dreams to operate an art not for profit. Now celebrating 25 years with 3 parties 9/29, 10/1 an 10/29. Who knew?
Sept. 20, 2011, 5:23 pm
Jake II from Two Jakes says:
Hipsters hipsters hipsters, hipsters hipsters hipsters hipsters. Hipsters hipsters hipsters. Hipsters hipsters hipsters hipsters, hipsters hipsters, hipsters hipsters hipsters hipsters, hipsters. Hipsters, hipsters hipsters hipsters.
Oct. 24, 2011, 1:13 pm

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