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Artists scramble for new space

As the deadline nears for artists from the now-closed Crane Street Studios in Long Island City to move their supplies out of the building, some are finding refuge in other studios in the neighborhood, but many are being priced out of the area.

“It’s been sort of a scramble,” said Chris Vilardi, who runs Artists LIC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping foster artists in the neighborhood. “There’s nothing really like that in that price range that’s available to the artists. It’s really been sort of hard for them to find new spaces.”

The death knell of the studios came in April, when an exterior staircase collapsed, sending 37-year-old Nicole Gagne falling three stories. Gagne suffered major injuries, though she is recovering.

Vilardi said many from the Crane Street community are moving to Greenpoint in Brooklyn orSouth Bronx, which has seen an artistic renaissance in recent years.

Some artists have found spots at Paint Can Studios in Astoria. St. Antonio Fezza, manager of Juvenal Reis Studios in Long Island City, said about 20 former Crane Street artists have started renting space there in recent weeks.

“They understand that it was a temporary thing,” Fezza said of the illegal studio space at the now-closed building. “It’s very hard, at that kind of price. They’re very considerate here. They look around, they find a space they like, they go for it.”

Vilardi said he was not aware of any concerted effort by any organization to keep the artists in the neighborhood.

“I think there’s room for someone to come along and do a similar funding structure like Crane had and sort of help the artists who aren’t as successful as maybe some others,” he said.

But some of the displaced creative community are not willing to wait. One former Crane Street tenant who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was moving back to Argentina and many of her former colleagues were also leaving the city.

“I was sort of thinking about it, and then the shutting down of the studio was like, ‘OK, time to go,’” she said, noting she will not miss Long Island City. “All the shops have been opening, [but] they have to do more with Citibank than with the artists. I don’t think there exists such an artists community in LIC.”

After the stairway collapsed, the city Department of Buildings issued a vacate order for the structure and cracked down on property owner Jerry Wolkoff, who had been operating the artist studios without a proper certificate of occupancy.

Wolkoff, who has said he did not turn any profit on the studios, worked with the DOB to get the spaces legalized, but gave up the fight last month after the agency required a number of improvements he said would be too costly.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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