Like other industries, the art world should come under the scrutiny of fair and equitable business practices. With so much privatization in the gallery and museum world, it's as good a time as any for consumers of culture to question where funds come from—and where profits are going. This summer, we're seeking out the best not-for-profit and community conscious art spaces in the most commercial cities on the global art circuit. As part of our mission to give art a social slant, the second stop in our series exploring these venues is New York City. You can check out our Los Angeles guide here.
“There are eight million stories in the Naked City”—and a decent chunk of them are think pieces about whether or not living (and for our purposes, making art) in New York is still a tenable enterprise. The older generation—the David Byrnes and Patti Smiths, the New York Times—keeps telling us that New York is dead, that we should move somewhere else: “the next Brooklyn,” perhaps, whether that means Detroit, northern New Jersey, or wherever. Despite these obituaries, however, artists keep moving to New York and making art there; they just do it in different places and in different ways than their predecessors. Yes, rents are unfairly high. Yes, you can see bad art and hear bad music any given night in the city. But if you know where to go, you can also consume the opposite; in 2015, as in 1977, New York brims with exciting venues.
An issue, of course, is that these venues are often ephemeral. Because of real estate prices and business licensing obstacles, maintaining an art space over an extended period of time is—as people like Byrne have noted—more difficult than it once was. As a result, up-and-coming New York venues increasingly manipulate and expand the definition of “gallery,” “concert venue,” or “art space” in a dual effort to integrate the arts into city neighborhoods and keep the venue’s own existence vital. There are a host of non-profit spaces in New York—some brick-and-mortar, some roving—that, besides showing art, engage the artistic community and the community at large in myriad ways. Concerts, classes, workshops, barbecues, and more: the role of an “art space” in a thriving, self-aware New York scene changes by neighborhood. The not-for-profit spaces listed below—new and old, big and small, just ten of countless others—stay fervently active in the arts and in their respective communities, fostering art, education, and social justice all the while.
Installation view from Tom Finland - The Pleasure of Play, Artists Space. Photo: Daniel Pérez
The oldest organization on this list and a continual fixture in Manhattan’s experimental arts scene, Artists Space was founded by Trudie Grace and Irving Sandler in SoHo in 1972, with help from the New York State Council on the Arts. As its name implies, it puts artists first: letting them curate the exhibitions, providing artists-in-need with materials, fostering artistic discourse through shows, performances and conversations. Since its inception, Artists Space has proven itself an instrumental supporter of noteworthy artists in NYC—including Joan Jonas, Jeff Koons, Laurie Anderson, and many more. Four decades on, Artists Space keeps a fairly busy exhibition schedule and, this summer in particular, a full calendar of talks and performances, often held at its offshoot space opened in 2012, Artists Space Books & Talks, a few blocks south of Artists Space’s current Greene Street home.
Lauri Stallings + glo, Drifting in Daylight, 2015. Photo: Tara Rice, Courtesy Creative Time
Younger than Artists Space by only a year, Creative Time is one of the aforementioned spaces-without-walls. Instead, the organization uses every corner of New York City as its exhibition space: commissioning eye-opening, site-specific installations that aim to challenge New Yorkers’ conceptions of history and geography. A recent newsworthy endeavor was Kara Walker’s A Subtlety (2014), an inspired and confounding work set in Williamsburg’s soon-to-crumble Domino Sugar factory. But Creative Time has presented perplexed audiences with countless other challenging pieces over the years by artists like Jenny Holzer, Vito Acconci, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Creative Time circumvents the issue of finding an audience for boundary-pushing art by putting the art in conspicuous but often overlooked locales, forcing viewers to consider not only the art itself but the storied environment around it.
Eyebeam. Courtesy of Eyebeam
Like many of the spaces on this list, the “art and technology center” Eyebeam wears many hats. Besides hosting multi-media and -sensory exhibitions, the Sunset Park, Brooklyn-based organization funds research, artist residencies, and public workshops—using each of its ventures as a means of discovering new technical and ideological possibilities for art, technology and the intersection thereof—and the social and ethical implications of such developments. (It sponsors several research groups, for instance, that focus on sustainability, urbanism, open source culture, and game design.) Founded in 1997 by John S. Johnson III, David S. Johnson, and Roderic R. Richardson, Eyebeam also recently set up shop at South Street Seaport with an exhibition showcasing wearable technology, giving the non-profit a home base for producing futuristic projects on both sides of the East River.
Flux Factory exterior. Courtesy Flux Factory
The Flux Factory story is an all-too-familiar one for New Yorkers. It started in 1993 as a collective of young artists shacked up in a former factory in then-gritty Williamsburg. The living conditions, the story goes, may not have been pristine, but artists were meeting artists and making art, fueling a creative community in opposition to the Manhattan art hegemony in a neighborhood that would, by the early 2000s, become an international epicenter for contemporary art and music. Of course, when the Williamsburg bubble began to burst, rents skyrocketed, and in 2002 Flux Factory—which had earned non-profit status three years earlier—relocated to Long Island City, Queens. Now in its second LIC space (since 2009), the organization is a leader in the rich LIC artistic community and the larger alternative New York art world, funding residencies and commissioning installations that prize interactivity, socio-political engagement, and creative uses of technology—all the while organizing frequent exhibitions and discussions in their space.
No Longer Empty, installation shot of Bring in the Reality, 2015. Courtesy No Longer Empty
No Longer Empty’s modus operandi is right there in the title. Established in 2009, the organization teams with artists and curators to install exhibitions in vacant storefronts and buildings, rendering the spaces, well, no longer empty. Throughout the current decade, No Longer Empty has collaborated with artists like Nari Ward and Dread Scott to offer New York viewers from any number of different neighborhoods and walks of life opportunities to interact with works of art (and their city’s history) which may have previously been skipped over or inaccessible. In addition to their expansive exhibitions—currently, Bring in the Reality at the Nathan Cummings Foundation—No Longer Empty organizes more frequent “curatorial labs”: shorter-run shows put together by young curators, likewise in unique spaces throughout New York City.
Installation view of Tongue Stones exhibition (art by Andy Romer). Courtesy Pioneer Works
Opened in 2012 by the artist Dustin Yellin, Pioneer Works, like many of the above spaces, hosts art exhibitions (currently, Hyon Gyon) and concerts (recently teaming with Issue Project Room for a few this summer). It also nurtures residencies, teaches classes, prints publications (Intercourse magazine) and promotes awareness about the surrounding community, the once-dilapidated seaside neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn. What makes Pioneer Works unique above all, though, is its space—breathtakingly enormous. Occupying a cavernous former iron factory and possessing copious outdoor room, Pioneer Works provides spacious exhibition halls in an environment that is somehow both jaggedly industrial and intimately homey. It affords its artists numerous unique ways to play with scale and dimensions, with materials and backgrounds. Because it is so big, too, Pioneer Works sometimes exudes a carnival-like feel, especially during its monthly Second Sundays, a crowded day of open studios and performances.
POWRPLNT, Hunter East Harlem Gallery. Photo: Natalie Conn
Among the most recently-established organizations on this list, POWRPLNT curates shows in spaces such as the Hunter East Harlem Art Gallery and, importantly, offers classes and workshops free of charge that teach a variety of approaches to making art with a computer. Although they conduct workshops for learners of all ages, POWRPLNT provides special instruction for East Harlem teenagers, teaching them music production, digital painting, online publishing, digital modeling, and much more. In a time when art is increasingly made with a computer—moreover, in a time when young people should have familiarity with any manner of digital creation techniques—POWRPLNT brings equipment and tutelage to those who otherwise may not have access to such things. Founded by the multimedia artist Angelina Dreem, POWRPLNT has a young and endlessly creative staff, and (to be blunt) unlike some old-fogey educational cooperatives, they promote the creation of really cool, up-to-the-minute stuff.
Black Dice performing at Secret Project Robot, 2011. Photo: Andrew Russeth
Under the direction of Rachel Nelson and Eric Zajaceskowski, Secret Project Robot opened in Bushwick in 2011, rising from the ashes of shuttered Williamsburg space Monster Island Basement. The newer venue’s building and adjacent yard are sights to behold; the yard, in particular, is an artfully-curated explosion of handbuilt wooden structures and eye-catching junk. Inside, the space is home to a rotating series of playful art installations: a comic book library; many stuffed animals; studios; and a stage where house favorites like Oneida, Black Dice, and old Brooklyn friends the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play periodically. Besides concerts and art openings, though, Secret Project Robot puts together small theater productions, food events (such as a “Surrealist Dinner Party”), and film screenings, notably being the site for Pornhub’s NYC Porn Film Festival this past spring. Unassuming from the outside, Secret Project Robot inspires childlike wonder from both first-time visitors and regulars—and sure enough, more than at other such spaces, there are often little kids running around the art.
Silent Barn stage installation. Photo: Francesca Ferreira
Started in Queens in 2005 and re-opened in Bushwick in 2013, the Silent Barn's mission in an art world still beholden to semi-exclusive spaces and institutional hierarchy is to promote even-handed collectivity and inclusion. Run by a revolving cast of volunteers and residents (often totalling around seventy), the venue hosts fairly-priced all-ages concerts many nights a week that feature a wide palette of musical styles, from noise to punk to pop, by artists from New York and across the globe. Beyond its concerts, though, the space frequently showcases visual and performance art, discussions and lectures, community events, and previously, a barber shop-record store, Deep Cuts. Everything they do is the product of a collaborative effort on the part of the organization’s members and outside participants; indeed, the Silent Barn demonstrably feels a social responsibility to everyone even remotely in its geo-social sphere. This summer, for example, they ran a class on Intersectional Activism, offering readings and discussions with regards to multiculturalism, safe spaces, the prison industrial complex, and other important, overlooked subjects pertaining to queer theory, radical politics, and more.
Workshop at Trans-Pecos. Courtesy Trans-Pecos
Another fairly young space, Trans-Pecos occupies the Ridgewood building that in the mid-’00s housed the Silent Barn. Organizer Todd P, a presence in Brooklyn’s underground music scene throughout the twenty-first century, opened the space with the intention of having it be not only a haven for avant-garde music but also a community center for any and all of Ridgewood’s inhabitants and visitors. The musical programming takes over Trans-Pecos most nights and features an adventurous mix of practices, coordinated by a changing group of curators that has included important New York musicians like James Chance, Matana Roberts, David Grubbs, and Hisham Bharoocha. During the day, however, Trans-Pecos is a coffee shop, sometimes-yoga studio, platform for workshops and discussions, or alternately, just a nice spot to hang out. The organization’s community engagement comes, more specifically, in the form of its support for the Zebulon Institute of Music and Art, which facilitates musical performances by developmentally-disabled adults; Representing NYC, which supports artists primarily in poorer communities; and FYREZONE, which provides art instruction and empowerment to local young people.
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