Twenty artists were selected for a yearlong, rent-free residency in New York City by the real estate company Stonehenge, which selected artists from across the world for its inaugural “Still Standing” residency program.
The luxury apartments where the artists reside in both Queens and Manhattan are a way for Stonehenge to give back to the art community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each artist was given a one-bedroom apartment from March 2021 to February 2022.
“Without the performing and fine arts, New York would lose the soul that makes this city so special,” said Ofer Yardeni, CEO and chairman of Stonehenge NYC. “Providing free housing for a year to New York City talent, and encouraging them to keep creating, has been a rewarding way for us to give back to a city we love, and to a community that will ultimately tell and shape the story of New York during this monumental point in history.”
The program received over 1,000 applicants when it was announced in October 2020, and has artists of various mediums, including choreography, filmmaking and painting.
Among the selected artists is Ngozichukwuka “Ngozi” Anyanwu, 39, an actress, producer and playwright. An established artist, with previous off-Broadway plays — the latest closing Sept. 26 — she has been in and out of New York since 2005. She’s lived in every borough except Staten Island, including residing in Harlem for seven years. Now, she resides in a high-rise luxury apartment building in Long Island City.
Anyanwu’s apartment gives her a quick commute to her off-Broadway responsibilities and other artistic endeavors.
“The idea of being able to afford a one-bedroom in New York felt really impossible and I was getting too old to live with people,” she said, initially moving to Los Angeles from New York due to its financial feasibility.
Anyanwu current building has “all the bells and whistles,” she said. Amenities include a gym, a movie lounge, a game room, a two-floor lounge, a rooftop pool that is open during the summer, a public terrace open during certain hours and a front desk person.
These amenities in the building make it much easier for her regarding her mental health, she said, especially the gym.
“Oh,” she said with a smile, “this is how the other half lives. How nice.”
Within the apartment, there is a washer and dryer, which she calls “the New York Holy Grail,” and a dishwasher. Her experience now could not be more different from when she first moved here at 23 years old, when she was a starving actor who, she said, “literally had like $308 to her name.”
“It’s not like being a theater artist is lucrative. So [the residency] made it even more advantageous to make being in the city more exciting because I actually had projects to look forward to, and I didn’t have the burden of rent,” Anyanwu said.
One year of free rent came with a monthly commission for the program to show how New York City is still standing strong, which for Anyanwu, is a small price of writing “a love letter to New York and a sort of love letter to [her] art” every month. For example, she said that she writes love letters to different parts of the borough with some poetry.
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Anyanwu said the requirements of the residency aren’t burdensome, but they are a great way to hold herself accountable when she’s not overly busy.
As a playwright, Anyanwu is constantly applying for grants and residencies, which typically only last for a couple weeks or a month. This yearlong residency felt “too good to be true,” but she applied anyway. Once she received the news of her acceptance into the residency, she felt some hesitancy but decided the opportunity was too great to pass up.
“I have a sort of deep, tumultuous, problematic-slash-exciting relationship with New York. So the idea of coming back to New York was cool but also tentative,” Anyanwu said.
Whether Anyanwu plans to stay in the city is still up for debate, she said. Though she loves it and really enjoys the moment with it and feeling wonderful with it artistically, she knows it comes with difficulties.
“New York is really like the boyfriend that, when they treat you bad, they treat you bad,” she said. “When they treat you good, it’s like, ‘Ah, why did I leave you?’”
With all these luxuries in the building she now resides in, she asked aloud, “What would happen if everyone lived their best life? You would have no excuse but to be a great artist, right? But I don’t know, maybe being part of a great artist is having to struggle. But I don’t know. I’m good. I’m tired. I’m good on the struggle.”
This program has reminded her of the joys of the city, with the removal of the nerve-wracking financial burden.
“This opportunity has made me fall in love with New York again,” she said.
For more information on the program, visit stonehengenyc.com.