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Low-Rent Lofts : Newark Turns Into Haven for Artists

Associated Press

There it was on the front page of a major New York City newspaper, the latest tip for the trend-conscious who find New Jersey’s Hoboken too settled and Manhattan’s Lower East Side too expensive: try Newark.

Driven from their New York lofts by professionals willing to pay more, artists say New Jersey’s largest city provides large work spaces in abandoned industrial buildings, accessibility to New York, cheap rents and an element of surprise.

“When you say you live in Newark, people do tend to drop their teeth,” said Johanna Lion, a printmaker and graphic artist originally from San Francisco.

Lion, who has also called home two other pace-setting spots, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, says she enjoys living and working in a former toy factory in the Ironbound section that has been converted to artists’ studios.

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“Newark compares favorably with places I lived in San Francisco,” she said.

Wayne Braffman said that when a group of artists came to his office at the Newark Economic Development Corp. in the mid-1970s seeking help in starting an artists’ housing project, “I thought it was the most ridiculous, preposterous proposal I had ever heard of.”

Reasonable rents could still be had elsewhere and “Newark was still too close to its recent problems,” he said, referring to the 1967 riots that led to the deaths of 26 people.

But by the early 1980s, all that had changed, and artists began looking at Newark, he said.

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“The city’s negative image had probably become our greatest asset,” said Braffman, who with his wife, Roberta Crane, bought a brownstone in the city’s Lincoln Park section in 1977.


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