Chelsea inspires other cities to follow urban art paradigm

| 02 Jun 2015 | 10:39

The concentration and number of both art institutions and successful mega development projects in Chelsea represent a new standard for urban art development, according to the authors of a recent book suggesting that the far West Side’s shifting landscape is an archetype taking fast root in cultural capitals worldwide.

“What seems to be happening in Chelsea is a new paradigm,” said Elisabeth Tiso, a New York-based art historian, co-author of New York’s New Edge with David Halle, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. With over 400 commercial galleries, Chelsea has become the nexus of the contemporary art world, Tiso said during a presentation at the Mid-Manhattan Library on May 29.

The transformation of Chelsea into “a Mecca of contemporary art and culture” has turned the neighborhood into a model for arts-inspired cities such as London, Berlin and Abu Dhabi, Tiso and Halle said.

Los Angeles has also taken the Chelsea model and “self-declared the new center of the art world, urban, downtown L.A.,” Tiso said. The room on the top floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library responded with a collective chuckle.

The art boom in Chelsea started with the proliferation of galleries there, but has been solidified by what Halle called “urban megaprojects.” The most vital among these being the High Line, which acts as “an artery of the arts.” Sprawling above the art world below, if it were a museum, the High Line would be the world’s fifth most-attended, with over 4.5 million visitors annually, Halle said.

Of course, more megaprojects continue to roll into the neighborhood. The new Whitney Museum — “a major culture anchor for High Line Park,” Tiso said — opened its doors May 1 on Gansevoort Street, at the park’s southern tip. And at the High Line’s northern end, near the Hudson Yards on West 30th Street, the Culture Shed will soon open as a new arts, culture and performance space. The projected 200,000-square-foot collapsible building broke ground this year and is scheduled to open in 2018.

Media mogul Barry Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, are the driving force behind another new megaproject, Pier 55, which will expand Chelsea beyond the confines of Manhattan’s limited land space. The couple has pledged over $100 million to transform the derelict Pier 54 at West 13th Street on the Hudson River Park into a type of floating park/performance space, what Tiso called a “performance pod.”

Also coming to the area is a new extension for the 7 train, which could open as early as July of this year. The project only began in 2007 under the Bloomberg administration. “To build a subway extension in nine years is unheard of,” Halle said.

Recent success for mega projects is a refreshing change for Chelsea. Halle cited both the long overdue renovation of Penn Station and the Javits Convention Center expansion as examples of major project fiascos in the neighborhood. After years of planning the expansion at Javits, the final product looks like a tin shed, Halle said, and it is still too small. Javits is still only the 19th largest convention center in the country, “which is pretty sad for one of the biggest cities in the U.S.,” Halle said.

But the success of more recent megaprojects is linked to the collaboration between private and public partners, the authors said. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation owns the High Line, but a nonprofit, Friends of the High Line, is its primary fundraiser. Pier 55 will follow an altered version of the public/private model with a couple of individuals, rather than a nonprofit, as the major contributor for a Parks Department project. It’s a model that being replicated worldwide.