By Tammy Scileppi
In Long Island City, a once-thriving artist community is fighting for its very existence because of crippling rent hikes, while the area still enjoys the top arts destination billing for Queens.
There’s a collective sense of frustration that is almost palpable, especially in the artist community, as struggling individual artists get pushed out with nowhere to go. These days, even established community anchors are feeling the pressure.
Pioneers like Valerie Green, whose creative vision jump-started LIC’s artistic community, are getting hit with catastrophic rent increases. Green is executive director of Green Space, an innovative dance venue, located at 37-24 24th St.
Since opening in 2005, the studio has become a vital part of Queens’ cultural fabric.
It serves as home to Green’s resident company, Dance Entropy, comprised of multi-ethnic gifted dancers, whose captivating, dynamic works have wowed audiences everywhere.
The studio offers affordable rehearsal space, classes, workshops, outreach programs, multi-arts events, and the performance programs: Fertile Ground, Take Root, Green Space Blooms festival, and Dance Entropy.
“I’m hoping to raise awareness of the value of my studio, and for local artists fighting for survival in Long Island City. Green Space, along with other art venues, fuel the local economy, making the neighborhood a desirable place to live and work,” Green said.
The dance venue is at a critical crossroad.
“Celebrating our 10-year anniversary, it has been exciting to witness LIC fulfill its potential rapid development, although it has come at a cost,” Green explained, pointing out that a 44 percent rent increase went into effect on Dec. 1.
Before negotiations, the increase was a whopping 70 percent.
“Green Space will attempt to survive this increase and is in urgent search of new donors and potential board members that can help,” Green said. “Support from our funders and supporters is greatly valued and has been critical towards maintaining, managing, and operating the venue and company through the years. The reality of the raise in rent is the need to significantly increase our operating budget in order to overcome the drastic change.”
Given LIC’s changing landscape, the survival of the studio is even more treasured to artists, as it is unlikely a new studio will open, given the escalating market rates, according to Green.
Droves of eager young professionals willing to pay those sky-high residential rents, have been flocking to the newly hip area, en route to more family-friendly suburban spots. Luxury high rises by the water offer swanky apartments with great views.
Green is a brave soul and no stranger to adversity. Her current battle seems like déjà vu.
Rewind to 2004.
“Born out of a shifting landscape that saw numerous low-cost rehearsal spaces in Manhattan closing, and rising rents, as well as my wish to have a permanent home for Dance Entropy, I began a quest to create a new space,” Green recalled.
She started Green Space in a developing LIC, in the former Scalamandre Silks factory.
According to Rick Rosa, managing director for Douglas Elliman’s Long Island City office, there’s a pattern.
Rent increases in commercial retail have indeed gone up because of increases in residential property values.
The artist community is sitting on properties worth more today than they once were, he said.
“Like any other neighborhood, prices go up and landlords want to make money on it,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast
Artists can’t afford spaces any longer. It’s very unfortunate.”
Solo artist and choreographer Laurie Hockman has been calling the studio her “artistic home” and rehearsing there for 10 years. Green has presented Hockman’s work in several of her performance programs.
“Dancers are especially impacted by the real estate market and over my years in New York, I have seen so many dance studios go under, and the impact that the loss of these spaces has had on form and content of the art itself,” Hockman said. “With the performance opportunities she offers, her programming decisions and her commitment to providing affordable rehearsal space, Valerie, through Green Space, has demonstrated a real devotion to cultivating dance in New York City and Queens.”
Dance Entropy hopes to continue to perform and make it work. Currently, they are deep into the process of creating a new work in the round, “Impermanent Landscape,” which will premiere at Green Space March 17-20.
Green Space is highly regarded in providing a greatly valued resource, and as an incubator for new and emerging talent. The choreographers creating work here range from established and touring company leaders performing on the city’s largest stages, to those fresh out of school.
“It’s really sad that the rent is being raised so severely on the studio,” Drastic Action dance company director Aviva Geismar, said.
She has been rehearsing there from Day One.
“Having an affordable space that was appropriate for dance rehearsals was crucial to my being able to do the creative work I was doing at that time,” Geismar, an assistant professor at Queensborough Community College, said. “Green’s producing series gives many choreographers at various stages of their careers important opportunities to perform their work in a professional performance setting,”
She did a performance season on the Take Root series in December and said it was a great experience and noted that Green also offers intensive dance training programs with her company; each summer, a number of students attend her intensive sessions.
“She offers scholarships to selected students from our college and from Queens College. This program has helped our students make huge strides in their dance skills,” Geismar said. “It’s tragic that it is being threatened due to rising rents. The studio is an important support to our community. It’s terrible to see the well-being of Valerie’s organization threatened.”
For information on how to make a tax-deductible donation, visit: www.green