Across the borough from the epicenter of millennial cool that is Williamsburg lies a part of town that isn’t yet synonymous with the Brooklyn ideal found on cable TV shows.
Cypress Hills, snuggled just to the north of East New York and abutting Woodhaven, Queens to the east, was one of the last remaining options where art curators and supporters Jason Andrew and Julia Gleich could set up shop.
“Like everybody else, we were trying to find an inexpensive place to live in New York,” he added.
The two co-founded non-profit arts collective Norte Maar almost a decade ago, soon after settling into a still affordable Bushwick apartment along the L train in 2006.
Over the years, however, the same neighborhood that gave Norte Maar room to expand its arts operation was soon inundated with friendly competition. More than 50 galleries operate in Bushwick’s art-saturated borders these days.
“We were struggling to remain there but as the real estate market exploded there, it became impossible,” Andrew explained.
Norte Maar settled on a two-floor row house nestled on Pine Street in Cypress Hills. Derelict months earlier, Andrew said his neighbors along the sleepy street are already stopping by for dinners.
Still, Andrew said he was fully conscious of what Norte Maar’s move might look like to long-time neighbors scared of change.
Sections of Cypress Hills are included in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s broad plan to rezone the adjacent East New York. The mayor and adminiistration officlas have spent the last year pushing an affordable housing plan that calls on rezoning the neighborhoods, adding some 1,200 units through 2017.
Real estate company MNS recently listed the average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Bushwick at $2,098. The median income in East New York is about $34,000, while median rent throughout the neighborhood is thought to be less than $1,000.
“They’re fearful and label artists as gentrifiers, that they’ll change a neighborhood and displace folks,” Andrew added.
To that end, he and Gleich told Metro they were committed to working hand-in-hand with the community, whether by relaunching their arts literacy program that successfully connected artists with local children in Bushwick or by collaborating with existing local arts groups.
“We’re very eager to see how we can bring some our programs into Cypress Hills,” Andrew said.
Yet some such groups are still apprehensive.
Having been raised in the neighborhood, Catherine Green founded ARTs East New York as a means to bring affordable cultural programming to the area that may also address East New York’s own socioeconomic struggles.
“It’s a little insulting to have other organizations come in and say they can help us,” Green said. “No, we can really help ourselves. We have the ideas. We have the will. What we haven’t had is access to the same resources.”
Green said she isn’t opposed to working with new groups, including Norte Maar, who she said has been in touch with her. She said that kind of collaboration will take a sensitive balance but “there’s always room to work together.”
Green added one of her biggest fears remains seeing the East New York artists who can barely afford to stay in the area be displaced as new artists and organizations move in.
Those changes came to Bushwick, Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, she said, and can certainly happen in East New York.
“We’ve seen the blueprint,” she said. “We’re the last neighborhood standing.”