The following was written by Liz Moy of the Chinatown Art Brigade.
There is an ongoing perception that Manhattan’s Chinatown has stayed relatively the same throughout the years whilst other low-income neighborhoods of color have been overtaken by gentrification. Ask someone how Chinatown fares in an increasingly unaffordable city and they’ll likely say, at least it’s “still Chinese.” However, to further this narrative of Chinatown as a holdout to displacement, as did last year’s New York Magazine article, would be a large injustice to the growing number of tenants whose livelihoods are most at risk.
Over 100 galleries currently reside in Chinatown. This includes artist-run spaces, non-profits, galleries run out of apartments, and of course, more monied white box spaces. In such a large number, they have inarguably changed the landscape of Chinatown and the demographic of people who pass through it every day. This is in addition to the already sweeping commercial development happening, leaving Chinatown with hordes of luxury hotels and rising condominiums. The categorical differences between these galleries are irrelevant to the long-term residents whose homes these galleries neighbor. Many working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, forced evictions, and unsafe living conditions caused by illegal construction. To many, galleries are simply the businesses that replaced the restaurant or store that served them for decades. To others, in contrast with their cramped living quarters, the mostly empty spaces are stark visual indicators of inequality.