Longtime Fixtures in the Boston Arts Scene Explain Why They’re Leaving Town
This post originally appeared on Vanyaland.
That whole “Bos Angeles” thing strikes again.
Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola, two longtime and well-known figures in the Boston music and arts scene, have decided to move to Los Angeles. That on its own would be news, as the married couple have not only played in several bands in town over the past decade-plus, lending their distinct talents to the music of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (pictured above), The Motion Sick, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, Drab, and others, but have contributed greatly to our city’s arts and culture circles. From working on programs like The Steve Katsos Show in Arlington and directing independent full-length films like Ten and Magnetic, the duo have contributed their talents to a wide variety of scenes and circles (Epstein is also a board member of the Somerville Arts Council and had founded the non-profit Somerville Makers and Artists group).
What is also striking a chord around Boston today—and starting up a significant amount of discussion on social media—is the message that conveys their decision to relocate to Southern California. First revealed this morning by Epstein via a Facebook post, and now reposted in full on Medium, Epstein and Cacciola explain how the rising cost of living and the Boston area’s increased indifference toward the arts communities have impacted their decision. The whole thing is a must-read.
“There are many complex reasons for our decision associated with our health and well-being, but perhaps the most notable is that we feel like we’ve hit a sort of creative ceiling here,” Epstein writes.
Stressing that their message does not come “with any bitterness intended,” Epstein goes on to detail what a lot of cities are facing: A process of pricing out the artists in a community for more condos and unaffordable living spaces, as well as stagnant pay rates as the cost of living skyrockets.
“The cities love the benefits of the ‘cool factor’ from the presence of amazing artists and arts projects, but are willing to ride on the breaking backs of creatives working without substantial compensation,” he writes. “I don’t blame the city really. It’s always easy to overlook arts in favor of just about everything else, and if you take any public-opinion poll, a tremendous percentage of people think arts has no positive impact on their community. You ask for subsidies for artists and you can just wait for the employment equivalent of the#AllLivesMatter dummies to shout about teachers or other people who play an important role in society. No one wants to open their eyes to see the tremendous financial and cultural contribution of the arts, which does not come with anything close to commensurate financial reward.”
He adds: “Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to find the support necessary to create the financial infrastructure that would allow us to continue working with an upward trajectory, and as much as new arts programs are touted, we just don’t envision a serious movement to make creative work viable within the context of skyrocketing costs of living in this area. Every year, more and more of our friends give up and move outside the city because they can no longer afford the rent. Boston, as a community and as an institution, fails to support startup and mid-level arts groups.”
And as Epstein and Cacciola see it, the issue includes the constant closing of music venues and independent media companies, but reaches far more widespread than that.
“This deficit means that the city fails to attract the types of infrastructure that result in creative workers getting paid fair wages,” Epstein writes. “For our needs, that means that there are very few record labels, booking agencies, feature-film production houses, film distribution companies, etc. We personally just can’t rely on crowdfunding and accumulating debt forever, and we can’t work under those financial restrictions to do better than we are now. We are just killing ourselves to pull off anything serious on tiny budgets. The true cost of this failure to value creative work is that people like us are significantly burdened by staying, and we are driven to leave. We’d prefer to stay, but it’s self-sabotaging to wait for sociopolitical miracles.”
And right now, there are brighter prospects in a city like Los Angeles.
“We love it here, and we love the artists, friends, and supporters in this community, but without the financial piece, we just feel like we have to go elsewhere in search of opportunities,” Epstein adds. “Life is short, and we don’t want to continue down a complacent, low-risk, low-reward path. There is no doubt that nothing will be easy anywhere else, but even if money and projects are hard to come by in L.A., there are at least more possibilities for what we’re seeking to accomplish because supporting industry is present. And with that industry comes an entire financial infrastructure in which at least some art has value.”
Read Epstein and Cacciola’s full message here.