From Florida to New York | Emily Miller
Pinellas County has a thriving visual and performing arts scene, and attracts young artists from around the Southeast. But for many young Florida artists starting their careers, there’s no escaping the draw of the Big Apple. What Hollywood is for actors or Nashville for songwriters, New York is for artists – the center of an industry, the place to learn your trade and make your name.
To get a better picture of that experience, and to acquire a sense of how Pinellas County fits into the bigger art world ecosystem, we’re going to be profiling a few young artists who have made the move to NYC. To kick things off, we caught up with Emily Miller, a promising young painter who made the move from Florida to NYC just a year and a half ago.
Before moving, Miller had a thriving career in Pinellas, where she says she was living entirely from the sale of her work. That’s a remarkable thing to give up – and she says that St. Pete still “has its handprint all over the way my life has taken form.” But, she says, “I wanted to challenge myself to make better work. I wanted to be in the center of the art world.”
Miller says the biggest challenge of the move was the basic logistics of finding a decent place to live. She says she lived in two “nightmarish apartment situations with slumlords” until this past summer. And of course, even great New York apartments are often too small to paint in, so Miller now shares a studio space in Bushwick with two other artists.
A committed networker, Miller has already had some significant success, including a recent show at Bushwick’s World Money Gallery. She also says that being able to see more art in person has impacted how she thinks about her own work. “Scale became much more important. Beautifully rendered paintings I saw on my phone screen lacked presence in real life.”
Of course, Miller meets people from all over the country in New York, but says it’s particularly great when she meets someone from Florida. “It feels like we automatically have some common ground.” Before leaving town, she created a performance/installation piece called Purgatory in Paradise, which she describes as “a darkly comedic ode to the Florida lifestyle.” Those inspirations and connections have remained valuable – while she builds a market for her own work, Miller works as an artist’s assistant to Erik Jones, himself originally from Florida.
There’s a lot she misses about St. Pete – from the artistic community she was enmeshed in, to the sunsets, to, most of all, her family. She says being away from them is the worst part of being in New York, so much so that when she visits Florida, “I usually don’t tell anyone I’m in town and spend the whole visit with my family.” Shhhhh.
Miller also has huge praise for St. Pete’s work fostering an artistic community, and she says the array of events and non-profit spaces in the area were crucial to the early stages of her career. And she warns that the move to New York isn’t for everyone – “It will definitely be more difficult than you can imagine.”
“But it will get easier. And New York City is vast and exciting to explore. You have to put yourself out there.”