One of the great stereotypes is the starving artist. The visionary individual that is either way ahead of their times or yet to be discovered. The artist with a hedonistic soul but living a monastically simple life.
This stereotype isn't born out of some need of personal drama -it's purely economics. Art is a hard world to make a living at. You have a few successful superstars floating on a huge ocean aspiring talent.
Artist, and maybe musician, are two of the only vocations where death is a good career choice. Just look at Vincent Van Goth, he was unable to sell any of his paintings when he was alive -but in death he worth millions.
One local artist who has had several promenade one man shows, travels thousands of miles every year and owns his own gallery still lives pretty much from hand to mouth -and he's better off than most. Without another income or the support of your extended family it can be a desperate life.
How desperate is it? In blighted neighborhoods, buildings that are unfit for human habitation get taken over by either drug addicts or artists. Because an artist is willing to live in such a building they might be the first positive thing that's happened in that neighborhood for years. Super cheap rents and even abandoned buildings to squat in attracts these people and the Bohemian mystique is more of a justification than it is a free will lifestyle choice.
When artists do get established one wave of positivity promotes another. Artists have been seen as the harbingers of gentrification like the first robins are seen as the harbingers of spring. This isn't always viewed as a good thing. The people in that neighborhood often only see the artist as one more outside force that will upset their already dangerously insecure lives. Gentrification to then means higher rents or the pressure to be forcibly moved to another slum without ever having a chance to benefit in the new prosperity.
There is an alternative to gentrification, it's the concept of neighborhood revitalization and the parallel concept of the urban village. In the next 30 years the world population is project to grow to over 9 billion people and more than 50% of them will live in cities. This means cities will have to efficient and livable, that there will be no room for slums because they represent an unacceptable economic drag. The artist could be the new hero of future metropolises keeping cities from becoming boring soulless landscapes of concrete.
A socially conscious developer had approached me on the issue of neighborhood revitalization. His question was what sign should he look for to recognize when a neighborhood is at that tipping point, ready to go from bad to good. Even socially conscious investors are interested in tipping points were their money will either bring the best returns or have the most effect.
One of those tipping points is food. In America blighted neighborhoods are almost universally food deserts. The definition of a food desert is easy to understand but you have live in one to fully appreciate what it means. If the nearest market where you can buy fresh food is over a mile away and you don't own a car or there is no mass transit available -then that means you either carry your food home or take a taxi. To get a couple of days of fresh food it's either exhausting or outrageously expensive.
On a renovation project I worked on, where a commercial rental on the bottom floor was being remodeled, it was easier to live on site than commute in and out of the city. There were no supermarkets, grocery stores or anyone selling fresh food for at least 20 blocks. For two weeks we lived on fast food and deli sandwiches. Not only did we all pack on a couple of pounds, we felt less than healthy.
Food is very important to an artist and to some it almost a fetish. Nor every artist is a macrobiotic vegan but in general artists are one of the few groups of people who'll get in a line to buy a 25 pound sack of brown rice.
Artists might be the first wave of urban revitalization but you know the community is beginning to take root when a food co-op, a vegetarian restaurant or artisan eatery opens up to feed those starving artists.