A new art project from William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton takes on gentrification and the class struggle in New York City. Eight participants, selected by lottery, will get to spend four nights in “affordable” or “luxury” housing in the city. Affordable homes are located in the East Village and Bushwick neighborhoods, and the luxury homes are in Gramercy, Chelsea, lower Manhattan and the Upper West Side.
The project investigates housing inequality in the city and the gentrification that is taking over it with some highly restrictive housing policies. Organized by More Art, a non-profit educational group with a focus on social justice, has produced the project. This is not the first team project for Powhida and Dalton: in 2008, the pair created a set of “condolence cards” for the art world that considered how the changing market, deeply affected by economic crises, shaped the lives of artists, dealers, and the art community at large.
Of their work, the team said, “We find that many discussions on gentrification involve the role of the artist, described in colonial terms as a ‘pioneer’ of some ‘undiscovered’ neighborhood, [which] elides the fact that there are already residents living in these communities who are consequently displaced.”
“White artists moving into neighborhoods can be seen as the enemy by existing communities who all know the formulaic nature of what happens next—the bodega gets a makeover into a 24-hour deli with kale chips and craft beer, generic condos start appearing and rents rise quickly,” they added.
New York City does have a difficult relationship with gentrification. “Making over” parts of the city has been especially unkind to black and underprivileged communities. Bill Thompson, New York’s former Comptroller, lamented the changes happening to Harlem: “If you look at people being pushed out, if you look at people who are the backbone of the neighborhood, people who have been there for decades and kept Harlem strong while others weren’t here, then the answer is no,” he said, addressing whether Harlem was better off with gentrification.
Art, as an expression of people and change, is inextricably linked with gentrification. Through their project, Powhida and Dalton tackle some of the toughest questions facing those topics.