Gabriel Koren’s story sounds all too familiar. The 68-year-old artist — lauded for making public sculptures of African American luminaries like Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X — has been priced out of her Dumbo workspace with nowhere else to go, according to an article in Sunday’s New York Times.
But for Brownstoner, Koren’s story hits close to home. The studio she’s kept for the past 28 years is just one floor above our office at 68 Jay Street. When we visited her yesterday afternoon, Koren was overwhelmed by the response to the Times article.
“So many people call. I am very thankful that so many people are calling,” she told Brownstoner. Koren is still listening to her many voicemail messages. She welcomed the possibility of help.
Gabriel Koren’s Statue of Frederick Douglass (left) and Marcus Garvey (right). Photos via the artist.
Crated statues in Koren’s studio
The rent for Koren’s sculpting studio was formerly priced at $1,500 a month, which she split with another artist. In July, the rent rose to $3,000 a month after the landlord gave several extensions and delays on the rent increase in an effort to give Koren time to find a new space.
Her artwork is crated, her tools are packed. But securing a suitable workspace is a time-consuming process. “I haven’t been able to make art in a year,” she told us. “I’ve just been looking [for space]. I looked everywhere in the five boroughs.”
Chris Havens, a commercial real estate broker at Aptsandlofts.com told Brownstoner, “it’s almost impossible to find 1,000 feet [of space] in rough artist condition in Brooklyn today. The only other time the market for small space was this tight in Brooklyn was during World War II.”
Brownstoner, which has been based in Dumbo for years, has witnessed the neighborhood’s changes firsthand — artist space has gradually given way to office space.
“In 1996, you could get space here for $4 per square foot,” Chris Havens told Brownstoner. Today, he explained, the only Brooklyn neighborhood where someone like Koren could hope to sign a $12-per-square-foot lease would be in an industrial space in East New York.
“Industry City is worth $30 to 32 a foot if you can get it,” Havens said. “You might see space like that for $2,500 in Red Hook. Every once in a while there’s something in Red Hook. ”
The Center for an Urban Future noted in its recent Creative New York Report that the expansion of the tech industry and the residential rezoning of formerly industrial neighborhoods is having a significant impact on available artist space in the city.
The question isn’t whether or not artists are getting pushed out of affordable studio space, but rather what — if anything — should be done about it.