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'NoMa' draws artists
Sunday, November 7th, 2004

Artists being priced out of SoHo and Williamsburg are packing their palettes and moving to "NoMa," or northern Manhattan.

"I moved here in 1998 from the East Village because I got priced out," said Katherine Arnoldi, a graphic cartoonist and painter.

NoMa - which area Realtors say stretches from W. 155th St. to the northernmost tip of Manhattan, river to river - offers what many artists seek: larger apartments for lower rents.

"The rule of thumb for this neighborhood is that you can get double the space in Washington Heights and Inwood for a third of the cost than the rest of Manhattan," said Gus Perry of Perry-Stein Realty.

Prices range from $850 to $950 per month for studios, $1,050 to $1,300 for one-bedroom units and $1,500 to $1,700 for two-bedroom apartments west of Broadway, said Rob Kleinbardt, owner of New Heights Reality. Prices for apartments east of Broadway, he added, are slightly lower.

One fault many artists find with the area is lack of studio space.

"Although the residential rents are lower, the commercial space isn't," said sculptor Liza Ehrlich. "Many artists convert one of their bedrooms into a studio. But what scale can artists work at with 7-foot ceilings?"

Mike Patel, owner of the only gallery in the area, TWOO7ART at 634 W. 207th St., said it is going to take more commercial venues to foster the area as an art haven.

"A lot of downtown is coming up here," Patel said. "Slowly, good restaurants and some bars are opening up, but it will take more of these places and some clubs to create an energy that makes an area attractive. Artists usually are the pioneers of a new area carrying that energy."

Another obstacle is the absence of galleries. However, Rosa Naparustek, co-founder of Artists Unite, said a lack of gallery space has forced artists in NoMa to find alternative places to display their art.

"Our limitations can become our strength. By using different venues, like churches or synagogues, we build strong ties to the community," she said.

One artists' group, Community Arts Showcase, has established permanent viewing space at the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, the Fort Washington Library and the Washington Heights Library.

"There has always been a bunch of artists living in the area," said Mike Fitelson, artistic photographer and editor of neighborhood paper The Manhattan Times. "The changes in the neighborhood have really forced several of the artists' groups to sit down and say, 'Let's do something about this.'"

Last June, the second annual Arts Stroll featured 111 area artists' and performers' work at 60 businesses, places of worship, restaurants and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

Latino artists who grew up in the neighborhood are embracing the migration of artists from other areas.

"What you have happening here is a blending of cultures," said Eddie Albino, president of Community Arts Showcase.

Albino said NoMa benefits from the new arrivals.

"I think it's a good thing that more people are coming uptown," said Albino. "It guarantees the quality of our buildings. They won't fall into disrepair."