It’s Happening: Arts Organization Norte Maar Migrates From Bushwick to Cypress Hills

July 17, 2015 | Liam Mathews

Norte Maar settled in Bushwick in 2005, back when the property boom was just a gleam in a developer’s eye and long before Bushwick Open Studios was an enormous corporate-sponsored block party. The not-for-profit arts organization, which promotes and presents multidisciplinary artistic collaborations, set up a permanent location in an apartment on Wyckoff Avenue in 2006, and from there has organized dance performances in Astoria’s Socrates Sculpture Park and late-night gallery crawls like Beat Nite. Norte Maar helped make Bushwick what it is today, for better or worse. Bushwick has become so financially successful that Norte Maar is no longer able to afford it there, and has packed up and moved to Cypress Hills, a residential neighborhood tucked in the far northeastern corner of Brooklyn. The artists have been priced out and have moved to the next gentrification frontier.

Around the time when Norte Maar moved to Bushwick, the average rental for a two-bedroom apartment was about $1100. Today, it’s $2,422. The owners of Norte Maar wanted to buy their own space, but they couldn’t afford to buy in Bushwick once they were ready to do so. So they pooled their resources and bought a two-family home one block away the Crescent Street JZ stop in Cypress Hills.

Norte Maar co-founder and director Jason Andrew says that Cypress Hills feels like Bushwick did in 2005. It’s a majority Latin and Haitian neighborhood that Norte Maar described in a press release as “underserved and neglected” like Bushwick was 10 years ago.

“What makes [Cypress Hills] so exciting for us and what was exciting for Bushwick was we saw great opportunity and space to create there,” he told ANIMAL.

But where artists go, real estate money soon follows. Norte Maar is in an interesting position in terms of gentrification: it landed in Bushwick with the idealistic goal of promoting art. In doing so, it inadvertently helped make the neighborhood safe for people with more money to come in. It got priced out of the neighborhood it created. Now, it’s starting the process again, only this time with an ownership stake. Norte Maar is slightly outside of the planned East New York rezoning area that will add 7,250 new homes to the neighborhood by 2030, but it’s close enough that Andrew and company will probably still benefit from the improved infrastructure and increased property values that will come. Norte Maar has been both a victim and a beneficiary of gentrification.

Jason Andrew understands this, but he’s somewhat unwilling to publicly reflect on it. He brought it up in order to say it’s not something he cares about.

“There’s always a big discussion about gentrification. It’s a subject that we honestly don’t have any interest in because it’s just the way progress is,” he said. “Artists move in to a neighborhood, they improve it, they bring in their artistic energy, and they change it into a direction that was different than it was before. But art really shouldn’t get stuck in a neighborhood, right?”

Norte Maar was never a strictly Bushwick or even New York City-based organization anyway; they’re currently exhibiting clay works in Jay, New York, a small town in the Adirondacks. The Cypress Hills location is simply a home base for their widespread collaborative programming. Andrew said that Norte Maar is working with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and socially-conscious arts organization ARTs East New York to develop collaborative projects that would be locally based in Cypress Hills. Working with pre-existing local organizations is a good way to integrate responsibly into a community. ARTs East New York did not respond to ANIMAL’s request for comment by press time.

Norte Maar’s new Cypress Hills location, once open, will host “art parties and pop-up weekend exhibitions in our residence much like the apartment gallery in Bushwick,” Andrew said. The upstairs apartment will be a temporary residency, particularly for dancers and poets, artists Andrew feels are underserved by residency programs in New York.

Andrew isn’t done with Bushwick entirely, as he still curates the OUTLET gallery in on Wilson Avenue. But it’s outgrown his independent spirit (and budget).

“We did what we could with Bushwick, and I think she doesn’t need any more of our help,” he said with a laugh.

(Photo: Norman Jabaut)