Brooklyn's Hipsters and Makers: Artists and Gentrification

Gentrification continues to be a highly contested issue for urban neighborhoods across the country, and no borough seems to know that better than Brooklyn. Graduate Center doctoral student Amanda Wasielewski (Art History) explores the rise of the maker movement and the gentrifying impact artists have had on certain Brooklyn neighborhoods, especially Bushwick, in her new book, Made in Brooklyn: Artists, Hipsters, Makers, Gentrifiers.
Wasielewski frames her investigation through ethnography, history, and even first-person journalism to question how the call for independent artist-entrepreneurs has affected not only the act of making art, but also the spaces artists inhabit.
Graduate Center: How do you see the maker movement changing the nature of artistic practice?
Wasielewski: For me, it was interesting to observe how changing urban conditions have made (Bushwick) a kind of hotbed of entrepreneurship. Artists are far more outward looking than they were in the past. It’s no longer about just the local community but about global outreach and expansion. Coming to New York after practicing art primarily in London and Amsterdam, I saw how the lack of state subsidies creates a totally different type of artist — more of a maker or a freelancer than the traditional artist-in-a-garret stereotype. Art studios were transformed into co-working spaces. Again, it’s not so much a judgment as an observation.
GC: Considering the maker movement within the long history of art, how do you see it shifting the practice of creating?
Wasielewski: Art practice usually reflects the societal changes of the time, and our hyper-commodified global art world certainly reflects the hyper-capitalist global economy. That being said, there’s an interesting cyclical nature to modern art history. Teaching modern art history survey courses, I really had to think about how there’s a flow of action and reaction over the course of the modern period. The maker movement followed a wave of techno-utopianism from Silicon Valley but, more and more, there’s a growing reactionary element in the art world.
GC: Why did you employ the frames you did to analyze this movement?
Wasielewski: This was, in a way, a really personal book for me. It made sense that I would include my own experience since this isn’t a straightforward academic book, and I don’t have complete critical distance. I have been interested in artists’ role in gentrification for a long time because I lived it. I was part of the “shock troops” of gentrification in London for many years. Of course, I didn’t want to be a gentrifier — I was just looking for a cheap place to live — but I nevertheless always felt deeply unsettled at how people like me inhabit lower-income neighborhoods.
GC: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Wasielewski: I hope the book gives readers a chance to think about how ideas coming out of the tech industry permeate high culture as well as daily life. A colleague joked that I might be labeled a “hipster apologist” for how I address hipsters in the book. While that may be the case, what I really wanted to do was dissect what we mean when we use this word “hipster” – to understand it and its history. So, I guess I hope readers will open their minds to the ideas I present and, ultimately, draw their own conclusions.

Submitted on: DEC 5, 2018

Category: Art History | General GC News | Student News