Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

A renewed Harlem. But a Renaissance?

(Page 2 of 2)

Though Mr. Haye asserts that serious collectors will go anywhere to find the pieces they want, he says many new galleries do not have great work, and they don't benefit from the foot traffic they would get in neighborhoods such as Chelsea and Soho.

Skip to next paragraph

"People say there is a Renaissance, therefore there is a Renaissance," says Haye. "The art world focuses a lot on the new."

Haye says that real estate speculation in the 1990s raised Harlem's rents unrealistically, stacking the deck against up-and-coming galleries and other independent businesses. "I will actually be paying less in Midtown," he says.

Rent complaints are not limited to businesses. Backlash from groups protesting gentrification has intensified in recent years, as more longtime residents are priced out of their homes.

The average household income in Harlem is still roughly half that of Manhattan - $27,365 vs. $47,030 - and its unemployment rate remains about 10 percent higher, according to the 2000 census.

The new hype in the neighborhood also may not translate into ticket sales.

After closing for the first phase of a $50 million renovation, the legendary Apollo Theater staged the much-publicized musical, "Harlem Song," directed by Broadway heavyweight George Wolfe in 2002.

Despite rave reviews, the production lost money and had to resort to raising $300,000 to sustain the show's planned six-month run. Yet local business owners claimed that enthusiastic audiences tripled patronage in nearby restaurants and shops.

Recent Apollo events have fared better - though their runs have been markedly less ambitious.

Still, some see the changes as positive. Tod Roulette, curator of Gallery M, which has been in Harlem since 1992, says that the neighborhood's metamorphosis has enabled him to take the gallery in a more international and contemporary direction.

"More affluent people, black and white, are moving into Harlem," he says. "There are more people looking to buy art."

Mr. Roulette says there is a rich mixture of old and new residents.

"I'm getting great response from local kids and single mothers bringing their boys in to see the art," he says. "The art world is still pretty much white, and it's important for people to see a black face on the other side of this desk and to see the work of black artists on the walls."

Roulette has hosted grade-school classes and has encouraged longtime locals to come into the gallery to discuss the art.

"For our last opening, the former director of the San Francisco MoMA came in on his way to a big dinner with collectors, and the next minute, a group of second- and third-grade kids came in. That, to me, says, 'Mission accomplished.' "

Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture says that the arts are key to revitalizing Harlem and the neighborhood is a perfect place for new galleries and companies.

"There is a larger vision for this plethora of activity, and it is that Harlem will become more self-sustaining economically," he says. Mr. Dodson, who also was a former chair of the cultural portion of UMEZ, says he speaks with people every week about moving their businesses, galleries, and dance studios to Harlem.

"It is an attractive place for artists and entrepreneurs," he says.

The PCOG Gallery opened in Harlem two years ago, and it hosts a free arts program for local youths. Owner Paula Coleman says she has seen several galleries move in since PCOG opened, and all of them are involved in the community.

"People come here with the idea of including something for Harlem in their program. The ones that don't, leave."

Though Ms. Coleman admits the new businesses do represent gentrification, she says most business owners want to preserve traditions of the historic district. "We're losing some of what was really Harlem, so it's important that we embrace the old Harlem," she says. "We want to keep the legacy of the Renaissance alive."