Artists: Consider the Cost of Living

The best type of city for artists and creatives is the cheap kind. Not cultured, not artsy, not filled with book stores devoted solely to poetry. Just a cheap city with cheap rent, reasonably-priced real estate, and an affordable cost of living.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always thought it would be amazing to live in New York City—in 1984. Back then, rent was cheap and there was still affordable housing for artists and musicians in old warehouse buildings, etc.—a la Basquiat. However, this world doesn’t exist anymore. Now you get a large walk-in closet (i.e. studio) in Brooklyn for a little less than 1K a month—if you’re lucky.
However, if you’re searching for a low cost of living, you can’t get any better than Detroit, Michigan. The median price of a house there—13K—costs just a little more than a year’s worth of closet living in New York City. Wow! That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me. As with many cities, however, you’ll need to consider areas other than the more ‘happening’ areas like mid-town, Cork Town, or downtown in order to find the most inexpensive properties for sale or rent.
There are, of course, a few caveats to living in Michigan, and one large one is the winter. However, as long as your house is well-insulated, all the more reason to stay home and write! Another factor to consider is the relatively high property tax rates and the high rates of property insurance. Keep in mind, though, that property taxes are higher for business owners than home owners. Of course, this only applies to property owners—not renters—so renters need not consider this factor. Also, property taxes are higher for more expensive properties, so if you’re looking to invest in a ‘fixer-upper,’ your property taxes aren’t going to be as high as if you were buying a house worth $300,000.
If a $13,000 price tag doesn’t inspire you to buy a house in Detroit, perhaps a program devoted to providing houses for writers will. Write-A-House is an organization based in Detroit that “seeks to teach and support trade crafts and literary creativity.” They do this by not only renovating Detroit city homes, but by also teaching carpentry and building skills to the underemployed, then awarding the renovated homes to writers.
I don’t know about you, but—as both a writer and an innovator—I am inspired by that kind of community-minded organization. If you are too, and you’re interested in making a change in the place you live, you could always get a degree in community development to help out the burgeoning reconstruction process in Detroit. From my experience living in smaller towns and cities, nothing compares to the feeling that you matter and that you live in a small enough pond to be able to make a difference to your peers. The Dalai Lama’s famous words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” come to mind.
In order to embody change, you should have a plan for growth. If you move to a place like Detroit with a lot of potential for growth in the arts, it’s relatively easy to contribute to the burgeoning writers’ community. Approach your networking with other writers in the same way that you would approach growing a startup or a business community. You want to focus on relationships with people: who do you know, who do you want to know, and who might your current contacts know who you’d like to meet?

det-airport
Photo source: Flickr/Will Marlow

The sad truth about writing and the arts in general, these days, is that it has become necessary to market yourself. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are fast becoming necessary evils—if only because one of the first rules of marketing is exposure. The best thing about these sites, as well as blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr, is that they don’t cost anything to use. Therefore, as soon as you learn the ins and outs of the above sites, you can afford to be a poor writer with a lot of free press.
So if you want to thrive as a creative person without having to stress about paying the rent, consider an affordable place to live like Detroit. Who knows? You might even start a revolution in your own neighborhood—or simply in your career in the arts.