About every other month, an obscure mini-committee of two artists meets behind closed doors at New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs on Chambers Street. In their hands are stacks of applications from self-described artists seeking formal certification from the city, giving the panel influence over millions of dollars in lucrative real estate deals.
Most lofts in SoHo and NoHo, two fashionable neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, are legally reserved for artists. And not just any kind of artist — only fine artists who create independent, original work, as judged by the committee. Actors, dancers and musicians who interpret other people’s work do not qualify, nor do commercial artists, such as most graphic designers or architects.