You Know It’s Hard Out Here for an Artist…

| July 20, 2011 10:00 AM video

Despite New York’s status as a global center for the creative industry, it’s never been easy for artists to live and work in the city.

Now in its second season, “MADE HERE” — an ongoing documentary project televised on NYC life – examines the lives of 68 performing artists in New York. How do they pay rent? What other jobs do they work to survive? Can artists be activists?

MADE HERE partnered with 14 arts organizations to brainstorm a list of issues that the series could explore through a collection of interviews, performances and behind-the-scenes footage of both eminent and emerging performing artists.

“We knew we had to explore issues that relate to space and money; the nuts and bolts of being an artist in New York,” said Tanya Selvaratnam, the show’s producer.

She said they also looked at the “more ephemeral and emotional issues,” including balancing work with family and the ways in which labels, like race or gender, shape an artist’s place in the industry.

In the episode called “Identity,” artistic director Young Jean Lee describes her initial resistance to creating an “Asian American identity play,” despite a funder’s request. Later in the show she admits that in a competitive environment like New York, “labels make marketing so much easier.”

Community has always been a part of my artistic practice.

Comedian/musician Reggie Watts, a staple of the international comedy and performance scene, is featured in season two, episode three. Photo courtesy of "MADE HERE."

Last season, the series tackled topics including Creative Real EstateDay & Night JobsFamily Balance and Activism. The second season looks into IdentityCreative PracticeMoney,  Lifework and Home.

“The concept of home is quite elusive for performing artists, it’s constantly shifting — they have to go away, they have to tour, in order to sustain their work,” Selvaratnam explained.

“Home,” which screened live on Tuesday night at the SHOW/HOW Gallery & Performance Space in Staten Island, features of mix of older and younger performing artists. Selvertnam said that while New York is generally “a place that’s conducive to the creative lifestyle,” the series focuses on artists’ conflicting and evolving viewpoints of living and working in the city.

“Community has always been a part of my artistic practice,” said poet Khalil Almustafa, who is featured in the “Home” episode of “MADE HERE.” A native of Jamaica, Queens, Almustafa now lives in Brooklyn. Almustafa’s poetry collection, Growing Up Hip-Hop, is used in classrooms from the elementary to college level.

“The fabric of our flags will not longer be used to stab oil or sky,” he shared in the episode. “Instead we will be patches in a quilt of struggles and stories sewn together.”

In “Creative Process,” writer and playwright Aaron Landsman says that “the intimacy within cities…living in close proximity and really knowing a lot about people’s private lives,” inspires his work.

For Steven Saap, it’s about “tapping into the personal rhythms of people.” Saap co-founded UNIVERSES theater ensemble and THE POINT Community Development Corporation, which uses art as a tool for literacy and youth development in the South Bronx.

MADE HERE will continue to broadcast on NYC life at 11:00 p.m. on Mondays.  The series will also be available 24/7 on the NYC life website.

View the trailer of MADE HERE’s season two.

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