A Brief Tour of the World’s Most Artist-Friendly Neighborhoods


Birds of a feather flock to… Bushwick, Brooklyn. That’s the latest New York neighborhood to be officially dubbed an “artist mecca.” Ah, the perks of affordable arty ‘hoods. Space, community, stuff to do, space and stuff to do together as a community, and of course, the ever-elusive sweet spots with affordable housing and studio space. With a little help from our friends, we set out to locate more of these artist-friendly residential clusters in New Orleans, Moscow, Beijing, and beyond. Of course, these are just a few and they’re always changing, so feel free to join in the discourse and drop a suggestion!

It’s not just income-poor, up-and-coming artists who come to seek out studio space, affordable rents, “underground” parties, and culture in Bushwick, between Brooklyn’s “trendier” Williamsburg and “rougher” Bed-Sty. It’s known for its own un-Chelsea Row-like gallery scene, and reputable non-profit art organizations, and blue-chip galleries are moving in too. Really, between stalwart Bushwick’s Open Studios and DIY-awesome Maximum Perception Performance Festival, it was pretty poppin’ before the Associated Press ever decided it was newsworthy.

If the 798 Art Zone is similar to Chelsea’s Gallery Row, and the “alternative” neighborhood of Caochangdi is similar to Williamsburg, then SongzHuang is a bit like Bushwick — cheaper, more spacious. In fact, it’s almost desolate. Actually, it’s just a long, dusty road… full of studio complexes, art galleries, and art supply stores! Surrounded by smaller villages, the SongzHuang colony is the biggest, most famous and most avant-garde artist community in Beijing. It’s home to established art world celebrities like the mad-grinning Yue Minjun and many, many archetypical starving artists alike. Another perk: When the repressive authorities want to go knocking on your door, they have to take that long ride out of the city first. (Hat tip: Kyle Chayka)

Artists in New Orleans love New Orleans, like Swoon, who’s building a “playable house” from Katrina salvage, and Candy Chang whose interactive street art projects are aimed at bettering the city. In the Bywater neighborhood, artists room in “shotgun cottages” from the 1800s. Galleries are popping up on St. Claude, Bywaters’ major street. Seems like it’s just at that point where gentrification is bringing in the much-needed shops, bike spots, and cafes, but not enough to start driving people out with condominium construction. With oddball art-antics like the Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea layering on top of the city’s own undefeatable spirit and culture, we’d love to see it thrive. (Hat tip: Angeliska and Tod Seelie)

Back in the 1990s, Moscow had more than a few squats and communal apartments shared on mass by contemporary artists, musicians, and general hippies. Since Russia’s capitalist boom, all of the artists were kicked out on mass (and some exiled). Nowadays, artists find themselves in rural areas. One such place is the Nikola-Lenivets, a dilapidated village turned art colony, residence to architects, artisans, and artists from former Soviet underground collectives who fled farther than the Moscow outskirts. All sort of folk live here, from Buddhist performance artists to land art sculptors who employ the local babushkas to help build hay ziggurats and log lighthouses. (Hat tip: Boryana Rossa and Oleg Mavrmatti)

Austin’s Eastside is just beginning to grow, sprouting indie businesses and artist circles that come together through gardening, organic farming, and community activities. Then there’s the Austin Eastside Studio tour. Some of the artist studios have been under fire recently with bureaucratic Kafka-esque code enforcements, but they deal. (Hat tip: Angeliska)

With places dubbed “Village Vanguard Diner,” “Haight Ashbury,” and “Mojo Rising,” the Shimokitazawa neighborhood is Tokyo’s Greenwich Village, but not in its golden days… But, a few ‘hoods over, Koenji is the vibrant hub for musicians, artists, and activists. It’s a “bedroom community,” meaning many of the employed have to commute out of the neighborhood, but suburbs it is not. With its many venues and social hubs, Koenji is the birthplace of Japanese punk rock and current home to artistic experimental fusion of the traditional and the contemporary. (Hat tip: Momus)

In Toronto there’s Parkdale, host of Canada’s portion of Nuit Blanche arts festival, nicknamed the “Queer West Village.” What? Affordable shelter near the MOCCA, Queen Street West gallery strip, and the downtown core? Perhaps, not for long. Its “counterculture bent” is being marketed by condo-developers. Commercial rent hikes are forcing smaller galleries and clubs to move north. You know the story. Meanwhile, musicians and visual artists can be found in Montreal’s Mile End’s Hasidic neighborhood. Now that it’s Montreal’s trendiest neighborhood, over the past year, artists here have also been moving north to Villeray, Rosemont, Petit-Patrie and Parc-Extension. (Hat tip: Paddy Johnson and friends.)