Deborah and Glenn are talented artists from Chicago who are determined to make it happen on the dance floor that is New York City. Here is their story.
Previous to our “migration” from Chicago to NYC, Glenn and I had talked for many years about living in NYC for “a year or more.” We visited NYC often for 20 years before we had the opportunity to “migrate.” So we knew NYC quite well and always enjoyed the differences in “artistic energy” between Chicago and NYC. We also visited Berlin (less frequently, but frequent enough) and explored living in Germany for a time. Chicago is a wonderful city, and Glenn and I have family and friends (artist and non-artist friends) in Chicago.
“Migration” is a keyword for us in telling our story, because we continue to “migrate” to NYC, but we also return to Chicago, and we enjoy other “art centers” in other countries. We are asked sometimes why we are migrating towards NYC. The “short answer” is that we are seeking art/cultural opportunities. We do not see Chicago as “better or worse” in terms of artistic practices; different cities offer different opportunities. We see ourselves as artists whose work is able to reach people in many parts of the world. The location of NYC on the Eastern coast of the USA is helpful to us in terms of mobility, and also the abundant variety of artistic opportunities.
The catalyst for our migration was that I was offered a part-time job teaching art in a private high school in Manhattan. I began teaching in February 2014. I found an AirBnB room for 6 weeks in South Park Slope – $1200 per month. After 6 weeks, I came back to be with Glenn in Chicago for 2 weeks (Spring Break at my high school – it was less expensive to fly back to Chicago than to stay in the AirBnB for 2 weeks.) After Spring Break, Glenn and I found an AirBnB room in Harlem for 3 months, April through June 2014. It was $1600 per month. We began to share our work with others in NYC in a more focused and disciplined way.
We went to events almost every evening – events at museums, galleries, nonprofits, and alumni events for SAIC (School of the Art Institute in Chicago) graduates. At one SAIC event, I met the residency director of the Catwalk Residency in Catskill, NYC. We applied to the residency and were accepted for 3 weeks in August 2014. The residency gave us time to work on our art, but it was also an opportunity for migration from Chicago to NYC.
During Summer 2014, we lived in Chicago and began to sell/give away our furniture and other possessions. We found renters for our condo. We stored our remaining possessions. We flew to Catskill with minimal clothes and possessions with the goal of finding an apartment in Manhattan at the end of the residency.
The hardest part of our “migration” journey came at the end of the residency. The only “pay stubs” we had were my part-time job pay stubs – and those did not qualify us for an apartment lease. I mentioned our problem to a teaching colleague – she arranged for us to stay in a room at her church for two weeks at $30 per night.
We stayed at Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen for 2 weeks and during that time we looked at apartments every day/evening.
We were fortunate and finally found a man who rented us a small 450 sq ft furnished apartment in the Garment District for $2500 a month for 9 months. We had to pay several months of rent up front and there were other “restrictions” – for example, he did not want us to receive packages or mail at the apartment. But overall, we liked the apartment – it was our first “live/work space” in NYC, and we were very happy there for 9 months.
In the summer of 2015, we received a matching grant ($6500 total) from the 3Arts organization in Chicago and we travelled and did art projects and exhibitions in Africa and Europe. It takes a lot of time and effort to get matching grants and raise money for our art projects. We were in a serious car accident during our travels, and it gave us a new perspective on how fortunate we are to be alive and retain our physical mobility. We are grateful that 3Arts and others supported us, both financially and emotionally, during our travels.
It is noteworthy though, that it cost us less to travel (using the grant money) than to live in NYC for the 2 summer months. We are always sharing our art work with others, and we enjoy meeting other people who are interested in what we do. We are also very interested in the work of others and we help other artists whenever we can – so there is a synergy between our socially engaged work, helping other artists, and sharing our work with all who are interested.
We could not “migrate” without the help of many friends and also our four parents, who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and who allow us to come back and live with them in Chicago when we need to. We are fortunate to have good relationships with our families and friends, and it takes time for us to nurture these relationships and not neglect them.
When we returned from our exhibitions overseas, we lived in an AirBnB room in Brooklyn for one month (approx. $1900) while we looked for another 9-month furnished apartment situation. We found a furnished 450 sq ft apartment in NoLIta through the Listings Project (https://www.listingsproject.com/.) Again, the rent was approximately $2500 per month and we had to pay two months ahead. The location was great, but the apartment was narrower (railroad style) than our first apartment, and was not as functional for us as a live/work space as our first apartment. We continued to work our “jobs” and shared our work from our small sublet in NoLIta – and caught the eye of the curators at the Sheen Center in NoHo.
In February 2016, the Sheen Center offered us a 3-month residency for summer 2016 and also a solo exhibition opening in February 2017. As of this writing, we feel very fortunate to have lived at the Sheen Center for 3 months. Yet, it is also a lot of work to prepare for the exhibition. The materials for the exhibition will cost upwards of $3000. Our time to prepare (unpaid) should be calculated at approximately $6000-$7000. So, even though we are not paying rent for three months, we are not being paid for our time or our expenses to contribute to the cultural life at the Sheen Center and lower Manhattan.
At the end of September 2016, we must again find a place to live. We would like to find an apartment closer to $2000 per month. Glenn and I continue to look for more ways to earn steady income so that we will qualify for a lease. Glenn is an experienced small business consultant and an expert with Quickbooks. He has 25 years experience as an Operations Manager for a large corporation. I continue to teach part time and will also be teaching a class on Art/Math fusion in Harlem. I can also work with Quickbooks and am very good with numbers! I founded and managed a design firm for many years, while developing our conceptual/socially engaged art practice. I am experienced with Photoshop and other Adobe programs – and I can hand-cut Yupo stencils with ease and speed! We would be glad to respond to, and help, others who would like to share their socially engaged work with us.
We would be grateful for introductions to people or organizations that need bookkeeping, teaching (workshops), and especially high-level art and culture services! We are artists, first and foremost, and we bring a positive-upward-migratory energy to all that we do. We are here to contribute to the “common good” – in NYC and beyond!
Contact Deborah and Glenn at http://www.doeprojekts.com