How Will Amazon’s New Headquarters Affect the Queens Art Scene? We Asked the Optimistic, Jittery, Outraged Locals

Some art centers welcome the corporation's arrival, while others fear exorbitant rents and hyper-gentrification.

SculptureCenter in Long Island City, Queens
SculptureCenter in Long Island City, Queens

There goes the neighborhood.

That’s what many onlookers and New York locals thought when news broke that behemoth Amazon would set up its half of its headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. (The other half will be located in Crystal City, Virginia).

But how do the many artists and vibrant institutions situated there, including SculptureCenter, MoMA PS1, and Flux Factory, feel about the tech giant’s arrival? We reached out to several Queens arts institutions for their take on the move. Some are excited about the potential influx of cash, corporate sponsorship, and wealthy patrons to the area. But others are skeptical or outright critical of the transformation Amazon may bring, including exorbitant rent hikes and hyper-gentrification.

“The Amazon news has raised the visibility of Long Island City to another level,” said Mary Ceruti, chief curator and longtime executive director of SculptureCenter. (She will leave her post just as Amazon gets ready to arrive, having taken the top job at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis). “Will we see increased attendance? We will certainly reach out and I hope some of the employees will venture off their campus to explore places like SculptureCenter.”

Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Image courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Image courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

Others were equally cautiously optimistic. “The creative community of Long Island City was cited as a significant factor in Amazon’s decision to bring their company here,” said Katie Denny Horowitz, a spokesperson for Socrates Sculpture Park, the waterfront park that hosts a dynamic year-round roster of outdoor sculpture projects and  installations. “We look forward to working together with Amazon, our community leaders, and elected officials, as well as the Long Island City residents we serve to ensure our park and cultural programming remains sustainable and vibrant as changes occur in the neighborhood.” The park, which sits on the edge of Long Island City near the border with Astoria, is a founding member of the Long Island City Cultural Alliance.

MoMA PS1, which became an affiliate of Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art in 2000, declined to comment in light of the fact that it is currently without a director (its former leader, Klaus Biesenbach, recently moved to LA to take the helm of MOCA) and is still absorbing the news. The Noguchi Museum and the Queens Museum of Art also declined or did not respond to a request for comment.

Less Than Optimistic

Some cultural figures, on the other hand, were frank in expressing their concerns about the potential changes looming. Asked how he thinks Amazon’s move to the neighborhood will affect arts institutions, Flux Factory executive director Nat Roe responds: “Unequally.”

“Flux has been a renter for 25 years,” he says, “and our ability to provide affordable space to our artists-in-residence depends on our ability to secure affordable space. Small nonprofits like Flux are in a tenuous position already, and there are quite a few of our peers in Long Island City who are at heightened risk because of Amazon’s move. Those who own their spaces… not such a scary problem, although certainly the public that we all serve will change demographically. So it is for organizations, just as it is for individuals, an example par excellence of American-style oligarchy in which the rich get socialist tax breaks and the poor get capitalist rent-hikes.”

Image courtesy MoMA PS1

Image courtesy MoMA PS1.

Roe says he has been hearing suggestions that Amazon should support local artists by offering free or affordable space or by hiring them for projects. But he’s not warming to the idea. “Personally, I’d rather not accept checks from Amazon, or visit some ‘Amazon Gallery’ experiential marketing scheme. Amazon should just pay their taxes and let [New York State Council on the Arts] and the [Department of Cultural Affairs] keep doing the excellent work they do.”

Despite her optimism, Ceruti of the SculptureCenter is fully aware of the concerns voiced by the surrounding community. “There is an outcry about the scale of this project, the huge tax break being given, and the lack of infrastructure to support the existing development already well underway in Long Island City,” she says. “There is no confidence (or evidence) that the city will make the necessary investments in the community to address affordability, lack of sufficient transit, [or] schools.”

UOVO art storage facility in Long Island City, Queens. Image courtesy of UOVO

Dollar Signs in the Eyes

For-profit businesses are understandably more enthusiastic about the Amazon news. These include art storage and transport company UOVO, which built its 280,000-plus square-foot flagship facility from the ground up in Long Island City in December 2014.

“We are energized by the announcement, but not surprised,” UOVO CEO Steve Novenstein told artnet News. “Like Amazon, we did tons of research before choosing Long Island City for our flagship facility, and came to the conclusion it is one of the most convenient, dynamic neighborhoods in NYC. Hopefully, all the attention will translate into a heightened awareness of the world-class museums and art institutions located here. We are also excited about the planned parks, and the possibility of new public art installations.”

Asked if UOVO plans to reach out to Amazon executives and leaders, Novenstein said that since he’s on the board of the Long Island City business improvement district, “we’re always engaging with our corporate neighbors to contribute to the area. Together we support charitable causes, public art initiatives and neighborhood projects like adding trees, flower beds, lighting, you name it. We will definitely reach out to Amazon and I am confident they will join us in investing in Long Island City.”


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