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New York Rent Too Damn High? Try Delaware.

Born-and-raised New Yorker Jenna Lucente tells us why she quit the city, moved to Delaware, and learned to “slow down and to be truly present as a witness.”

Catherine Chapman

This article originally appeared on Creators.

Though born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, artist Jenna Lucente is drawn to neighboring, less-crowded locales. In the 42 years that she was living in and around New York City, Lucente felt she was missing presence as an artist. "While there is total vibrance and abundance of art and culture in NYC, it is actually very difficult to earn a living there and to 'make it' as an artist, due to the high cost of rent," Lucente explains. "As artists, we need time and space to create our work, both of which are difficult to find in NYC. I also think that NYC can sometimes be too big—there is so much—it almost seems out of reach."

So in 2015, Lucente moved to Delaware, taking a teaching position in art at Salem Community College in nearby New Jersey. Her studio space is at the Delaware Contemporary, which is one of the few institutions for contemporary arts in the state but one whose outreach is impressively determined, offering artist residencies and open studios the first Friday of each month—sometimes drawing a crowd of more than 300 people.

"I have found this to be one of the best art spaces I have seen, in any state," she says. "I have found true support and a great response here in Delaware to my work, more so than in New York. I am also able to afford my rent as well as my studio rent, which is critical. There is something to be said for a reasonable cost of living," Lucente tells Creators.

Jenna Lucente standing next to her Arthur Kill Station public artwork.

Though enmeshed in the Delaware cultural scene, Lucente finds reasons to return to her childhood stomping grounds. On the Staten Island Railway, commuters using the new Arthur Kill station can find public artwork designed by Lucente. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Art & Design and unveiled in January of this year, Lucente created 28 large-scale laminated glass panels that reflect the area's diverse past, through illustrations of historic architecture and natural wildlife. For Lucente, an artist continuously referencing place within her work, it was a dream come true.

"For the most part, I try to reconcile animal/man and landscape/environment, in one way or another," Lucente says. "Sometimes it is a direct connection between nature and the man-made, or our ever-changing environment."

Tottenville Sun, Tottenville Sky (2017) © Jenna Lucente. MTA Staten Island Railway Arthur Kill station. Commissioned by MTA Art & Design. Photo: Michael McWeeney.

The results are visually commanding pieces that enlist calming colors of both sun and sky with a mixture of bold and faded imagery, in order to allude to the area's past and present. Lucente starts by taking more than 2,500 photos, then manipulating the photographs, overlaying them with hand drawings using a Mylar polyester film.

"This adds a ghost-like effect to the story and allows the subject matter in the foreground to pop out," says Lucente. "It also adds some intrigue, as it allows me to combine different images quite easily together."

A multidisciplinary artist, Lucente likes working by hand, whether drawing or painting, finding preference to communicate her work's intention through degrees of brushstrokes or noticeable outlines. "I do believe there is something still precious and valuable to creating oil paintings, for example," she says. "Even more so in today's day and age, as they require all of us to slow down and to be truly present as a witness."

Tottenville Sun, Tottenville Sky (2017) © Jenna Lucente. MTA Staten Island Railway Arthur Kill station. Commissioned by MTA Art & Design. Photo: Michael McWeeney.

Blue Heron by Jenna Lucente. Graphite and acrylic on mylar with archival print behind. All images courtesy of the artist.

Tottenville Sun, Tottenville Sky (2017) © Jenna Lucente. MTA Staten Island Railway Arthur Kill station. Commissioned by MTA Art & Design. Photo: Michael Falco.

See more of Jenna Lucente's work here.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. This month, we're covering Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Tennessee, and Delaware. To learn more, click here.

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