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Harlem Art Collective Using Gentrification to Subsidize Free Art Programs

By Gustavo Solis | June 18, 2015 4:48pm
 The Harlem Art Collective's apratment on 116th Street and First Avenue is open to all artists.
Hart House
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EAST HARLEM — A group of artists is renting out rooms in its apartment to tourists and using the money to pay for free workshops and public art projects in El Barrio.

The Hart House, run by the Harlem Art Collective, celebrated its housewarming party Sunday with a free spray-painting workshop at First Avenue and East 116th Street. Their goal is to use gentrification for good to help their cause, said Kristy McCarthy, one of two members of the collective who live in the apartment.

“We are trying to use gentrification in the community’s benefit,” she said. “It’s a way for money to come into the neighborhood without having the rents go up.”

The idea is to bring tourists to East Harlem, have them experience the neighborhood, shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants and then go back home and tell their friends about the community. 

“Gentrification brings in a lot of money but it usually goes to contractors and building owners and not really people who live in the community,” McCarthy, 32, said.

The five-bedroom two-bath apartment has murals from New York-based artists Marthalicia and Danielle Mastrion, as well as European-based spray painter "El Nino De Las Pinturas."

Through Airbnb, the collective has hosted people from Oslo Norway, Brussels Belgium, and Kalamazoo Michigan. The rooms range from $60 to $120 a night, McCarthy added.

New Yorkers are allowed to rent out rooms in their apartment for less than 30 days as long as they are living in the apartments.

The collective is relatively new — they started in February — but they’ve already made a mark on El Barrio by setting up a Guerilla Gallery on East 116th and pop up libraries in local community gardens.

The Hart House will also be a place where artists can go to for free studio space stocked with art supplies. Anyone interested can contact the collective's Facebook page and set up a time.

“It's a dream for street artists to have a place to call your own and practice,” said Simon Aredondo, 40, a member of the collective.

Free studio space in Manhattan is virtually unheard of. Emerging artists usually split $500 a month for a space, he added.

Simon, who was born and raised in Inwood, struggled to break into the city’s art scene for years. Since joining the collective he has made friends with artists and finally feels like a member of the art community.

“It was hard just getting to the point of meeting other artists not from your area and them accepting you and letting you hangout,” he said. “I have a whole new life now that I am involved in. I’ve never been around so many people that are cool from different walks of life, from different ethnicities."

This summer Simon and another member of the collective are going to host a free screen-printing workshop open to the public. The collective also wants to partner with community gardens to paint public murals throughout the neighborhood.