A new wave of art galleries are starting to move up uptown from Chelsea and lower Manhattan, and it is time to ask serious questions about their impact and what we can do to guarantee Harlem survives culturally.
BY Seph Rodney
How does one defend one’s turf — the place where one lives alongside the people one identifies with? How does one defend that place against incursions by agents or forces that seem to want to change that environment, make it inhospitable, when it had felt like where one belongs for a long time? I like the term turf, though it is a corny word that brings to mind overwrought musicals with overly stylized characters. I like it because it connotes the ground, the soil and grass underneath one’s feet that can feel like one’s personal preserve.
Harlem is a preserve of a certain spirit and culture that seems worth defending. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is under threat, that it is being invaded by institutions and economic forces that aim to transform it, and, intentionally or not, make it less affordable for its long time residents. The median household income in Harlem is now about $37,000 per year, as opposed to about $50,000 for the whole of New York, yet with buildings like One Morningside Park going up, selling two-bedroom condominiums at $2.5 million that median figure will not last much longer. Harlem’s turf is getting smaller, and what’s making slowly shrivel into a husk of its former self is gentrification.