If you’re an artist, then the city in which you live can be crucial to your practice. Low costs of living are key, especially since many artists need to pay rent for studio space on top of their living accommodations, leaving traditional artist havens like New York and Los Angeles increasingly unaffordable for people trying to build careers in the art world. But for creative people, a city can offer much more beyond cheap lofts. Where you live and work can offer inspiration, a sense of community, and the relative solitude required to focus on your work. And thanks to the internet, you no longer need to live and work in a major cultural center to get your work noticed. Here, nine artists share how the cities they live in influence their careers.
Where’s The Best Place To Make Art? 9 Artists Reflect On The Cities They Call Home
From Texas to Berlin
Emma Rogers - Marfa, Texas
The landscape here is so striking, so interesting, it makes for a really great subject. The community supports the arts and creative endeavors, much more so than any previous cities I’ve lived in. There’s an unusually high concentration of makers, thinkers, and artists here, and combined with the daily influx of visitors from all over the world you’re never at a loss for creative or inspiring conversations. This place also allows me to hole up and get to work in a way that I was never quite able to achieve while living in San Francisco or Istanbul. Of course, living in a town of 2,000 has its downsides, with limited access to housing, supplies, and studio space. But I like living and working in Marfa, as the landscape and people make it an inspiring and continually compelling place to be an artist.
Chris Coy - Las Vegas, Nevada
The Las Vegas that most visitors experience is a sort of a collective hallucination—a bleary-eyed mirage of smoky, felt-lined surfaces, oppressive heat, and neon outlines. I often tell people from other cities that it feels like the internet willed itself into overlapping, formal anachronisms; concrete monuments to the ephemeral. To me, Las Vegas is the most honest of American cities. It sort of straddles a fault line of tectonic emotions—fear and longing occasionally forcing spires upward to form landmarks of landmarks. It’s an interesting place to be an artist. The skyline is a sort of an airbrushed backdrop for the things that are true everywhere else: save money on rent, put it into materials/production, find ways to sustain oneself, and stay up late with friends.
R. Lord - Sausalito, California
I came here to contact extra-dimensionals, dead surrealists, and other potential ghosts, and to be less reliant on shoes/land/time. Here, I can speak in the first person as if I were the first person, flopping around bodiless like clothes on a line. When the boat is a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’.
Adam Basanta - Montreal, Quebec
Montreal is a great place to be an artist, at least in the early and exploratory stages of your practice. Although rents have gone up since the legendary days of the ’90s, it is still a very affordable city. Low cost of living allows artists more time to develop their practice and enables the development of experimental and less commercial art forms. There are lots of artists and musicians around, usually concentrated in adjacent neighborhoods, and the city is lively. The commercial gallery scene probably lags behind other cities but is complemented by artist-run centers and DIY venues. The Anglo-Franco divide is still present, but on the whole, it’s a generous and friendly scene.
Karilynn Ming Ho - Vancouver, British Columbia
Despite Vancouver’s soaring real estate prices and its wide acceptance of wearing yoga pants to credible dining establishments, Vancouver is a challenging but productive city to be an artist in 2016. For a city of its size, Vancouver cultivates an exceptional network of artists and curators that make conceptually and aesthetically intelligent work. We live in a rainforest, so the weather is incredibly mild year-round, but it rains a lot. Vancouver’s proximity to Asia and the large Asian communities that have settled here for several generations makes this city culturally rich, particularly in the realm of culinary and fashion trends. It also has a long and rich history of leftist politics and activism. I have never lived in a place where so many people dream and speak about utopia.
But I think the main questions weighing on all our minds are: How much time do we have left in this city? And will the bubble burst? Vancouver is becoming increasingly unaffordable, even for the middle class. The rising cost of housing continues to be the primary reason why so many people have decided to leave. There are so many wonderful things about Vancouver, but it is difficult to conceive of a future in a city that’s squeezing out an entire class of people.
Louisa Gagliardi - Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich might be a small city, but a lot is happening. We have great institutions, galleries, project spaces, and the activity is frequently supported on city and national levels. At the same time, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of events, so you can stay productive during the work week. A lot of people come through the city as well—artists, curators, critics—which keeps it from becoming too stagnant. But let’s be clear: You will run into the same people no matter where you go. Zurich is well-located, you can hop on a plane and be practically anywhere in Europe within one and a half hours. And most of all, Zurich is so beautiful, the lake is a few tram stops away, and so are the mountains (okay, maybe a train ride away for those). Zurich is a city of balance.
Photo by Adam Amengual
Vanessa Boer & Darren Pasemko - Portland, Oregon
Portland values individuality and, despite its rapid growth, still manages to live up to the unofficial motto of “Keep Portland Weird!” Since moving here from Brooklyn [, New York] in 2011, we have met so many other artists who had fled from larger cities, much to the annoyance of long-time Portlanders. We all seemed to be after the same things: affordable studio space, more time outdoors, fun and kind people to collaborate with, and just a little less stress. Some of those things are quickly disappearing as the city grows, and the new challenge may be how to keep artists in Portland. But despite there being so many of us, we have found that the feeling of community and encouragement between makers runs pretty deep here. If you’re thinking about moving to Portland: It rains a ton, the Cascadia earthquake is imminent, and we hear Austin is really nice this time of year.
Clémence de La Tour du Pin - Berlin, Germany
To me, Berlin has been such a great place for producing works and meeting other artists. It’s five years I am living here. It allows me to have enough space in my studio to start making installations and to use large size materials. I guess having some space and some time was one of the main reasons I moved here. I was also attracted by the feeling of freedom you can get. The architecture of the city is very peaceful, and in the winter, I like to walk in the silent, empty streets—it’s a great space to think. Also, I live on the 10th floor of a building, and I have an amazing view of Kreuzberg from my window.
Rhys Coren - London, England
I am originally from a coastal town with a large naval port that was obliterated by German bombing raids during World War II. Though surrounded by outstanding natural beauty, the city itself is 98 percent gray with ’50s concrete. During my time there, from the mid-’80s until 2001, the city harbored a culture that was far from sympathetic to creativity and sensitivity, key qualities of anyone with an artistic nature. Unfortunately, I knew no alternative, so from childhood to life as a young adult, I was frustrated without even knowing why. I was angry. Disjointed. Aggressive at times. I was missing something that I couldn’t yet identify or grasp.
But then I found London. Laudable, liberal London. The cosmopolitan metropolis, with its all-encompassing omnipresence and “work hard, play hard” spirit. Its cultural diversity and history; its Thames River and its bridges. This multicultural island in a vast sea of Brexit mentality is somewhere where creativity, sensitivity, and an artist’s nature can flourish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really fucking hard, and London can be harsh and alienating for those not from wealth or privilege, but if you persevere, it will reward you. It is worth it.