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The Art World: Departists

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The city's heedless economic boom has slowed a bit lately, but that doesn't mean that the capital of the art world -- with its new gallery district and expanding, glamorous, name-brand-architect-designed museums -- is a place where anyone can afford to actually make art.

Since 1991, the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation has provided free studios to fourteen artists a year at 443 Greenwich Street, but not anymore. "We pretty much saved this building for the landlords and filled it up with artists," says Chuck Close, a member of the Space Program's board. But last fall, the landlord wanted to increase its rent from $10 to $50 a square foot. "I said, 'That's it, I can't handle it,' " says Joyce Robinson, the foundation's director. "There was no option except to move."

Thread Waxing Space faced the same problem. But after raising more than $2 million and conducting a two-year search for a suitable (and affordable) new home, it gave up. Its founder and chairman, Tim Nye, declares that it'll return with a new name and a "drastically modified mission," but it's closing at 476 Broadway June 1. More than once, he says, he negotiated a deal for a space, only to find that the owner was still shopping it around. "The problem is not just the prices but the unscrupulous character of property owners," he says.

The Space Program might re-emerge as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's burgeoning arts complex, "but that will take a few years," Robinson says. "Meanwhile, what do we do with the program? Now even Williamsburg is out of the question." (They meet with the city's Department of Cultural Affairs Wednesday.)

For now, at least, the group is hoping to stay in town. Or? "New York will be a market town but not a place where art is made," says board member Robert Storr, a moma curator and painter. "The façade of the art world has never looked more glamorous, and the structure of the creative side has never been shakier."


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