My dear friend Adrienne wrote a paper for her Communication and the New Economy class at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She emailed the paper to me with a little note: "... I hope you find it entertaining."
I had no idea that my life had been referenced in the subject matter: "New York, New York". I was more than entertained.
“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it - New York, New York. These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray. Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York.” (Kander, 1977)
For as long as I can remember New York City has been the place where fashion, theatre and artistic hopefuls flock to become a part of the cultural class that nurtures the New York City economy. As an undergrad, I participated in many of my universities musical theatre productions and became friends with many of the musical theatre degree seekers at our university. Many of these individuals are still close friends of mine and one thing about them has yet to change. They all are living for the day that they can move to New York City and become members of the creative class. It is as if the only place you can truly become a successful member of this class is New York City. Their professors encourage them to perfect their skills so that they can compete with other hopefuls in the city. They graduate with a degree in dance, theatre or art and as soon as they can sell all of their personal possessions and book a flight, they are on their way to New York City. More often than not, these same individuals end up working two or more jobs, auditioning on their days off, subletting a room from a stranger in a Brooklyn apartment, far from the Manhattan lifestyle they came seeking. Is it not possible to “make it” anywhere else? I believe it is, but like Currid says, “The “walkability” of New York’s streets and neighborhoods makes run-ins possible between those offering artistic skill sets and those needing them” (Currid, 2007 p. 9).
A good friend of mine, Katie [last name erradicated], made the decision to move to New York City five years ago after realizing that she was turning 25 years old and still had not moved away from the small town our undergraduate university was settled in. She decided to get a second job as a server at a casino in Cherokee, NC and save the money for the move. A year later, she sold her car, rented a minivan and drove to New York City. She slept on a friend's couch for three months and landed a job at [company eradicated] as a temporary worker. The temporary job led to a full time position and she is now the executive assistant in their advertising sales department. Because of her job, she has had numerous run-ins that have led to career advancement and even a guest spot on [television show eradicated]. Katie has the kind of handwriting that people pay for when it comes to event invitations. In the case of [company founder's name eradicated], she was looking for someone to hand-write placecards for a company project. [Company founder's name eradicated] saw a memo Katie had written to a co-worker and liked it so much that she asked Katie to hand-write the said placecards. I have a hard time believing that this could have happened had she moved to Memphis or Nashville. Whether we agree with Currid (2007) or not, she is correct when she says that the odds of making connections that can advance you artistically or culturally are far better in New York City than other United States cities. Katie is one of the lucky ones. If you google her name, the first thing that comes up is an article about how her move to New York City has been the ideal situation. For Katie, New York City has lived up to the expectations Currid (2007) writes of. Unfortunately, other friends of mine have not been as fortunate.
In chapter 6 of the text, Currid (2007) discusses gatekeepers within the cultural class. Reading this chapter immediately made me think of the television show Project Runway. Every week, Fashion model Heidi Klum tells the designers how in the world of fashion, “one day you’re in and the next you’re out.” Currid (2007) refers to this when she says that tastemakers, certifiers and peer reviewers pick who the cultural and artistic “winners” are. Small groups of people determine your fate. Too many people, this does not exactly seem fair, but I know individuals who have dealt with this harsh reality, specifically when it comes to breaking into the Broadway scene. As an undergrad, I worked under Terrence Mann, who originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in Andrew Lord Webbers, Cats. While working with him, I would often hear him say, “It’s not the talent, it’s the type.” You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you do not look the way the “gatekeeper” wants you to look, you are out and someone else is in.
I do not think there will ever be a day when New York City is not a breeding ground for the cultural class. People will continue to flock there in hopes of becoming members of this class and the more people that come; the more money will be spent in the city and the wealthier the city will become. As desired as membership in the cultural class is, it can be difficult to get there and be successful. Many cultural class hopefuls end up as “starving artists”, working and waiting on that big break. I cannot help but wonder if these same people would be struggling the way they are if they had moved to a city like Nashville or Atlanta. These cities are known for their up and coming cultural class and the cost of living is far less than New York City. People make it to the highest ranks of the cultural class via these cities as well, but I believe people are in love with the idea of being able to say, “I made it in New York City”. Even I must admit that it has a nicer ring to it than, “I made it in Atlanta”.
I'll find my own words to close out my three-year chronicle of "Becoming a New Yorker", but I could not agree more with the final statement of Adrienne's essay.
Oh, and she got an A.