The Challenge of Finding and Maintaining Art Spaces

Monday night, I attended another great presentation at the TimesCenter, part of the Arts Forum at The New York Times series presented by the Alliance for the Arts.  The topic was something very important and near-and-dear to my heart: "Art Works: A Discussion About Art Spaces and Communities."

The presenters all talked about the need for space for art, from studios to theaters to rehearsal spaces to screening rooms to affordable housing for artists and beyond.  Moderated by New York Times Culture Reporter Patricia Cohen and introduced by Diane McNulty, Executive Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations at The New York Times Company, and Randall Bourscheidt, President of the Alliance for the Arts, the speakers included Craig Hartkoff, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, Roberta Uno, Senior Program Officer of Arts and Culture at the Ford Foundation, and L. Kelley Lindquist, President of Artspace Projects.

They all offered some valuable insight into not only what cultural groups without a physical home can do, but also how they can assess their needs and create sustainable plans to manage operational expenses once they have a space.  They stressed the importance of public/private partnerships in funding.  They also reiterated the value of investing in the arts and what it brings to communities. 

Through my involvement in various local theater groups, I have seen the challenges in different stages of space needs.  Some theater companies have produced great shows for years even without a permanent space -- and yet that lack of a formal "home" has caused stress and expenditures as new seasons are planned, rehearsal and performance times are booked, and loyal audiences are developed. Non-profit organizations (and I'm sure even for-profit companies) with their own space have other headaches, such as severe overhead expenses -- operating costs alone eat up a fat chunk of budgets even before a single dime is spent on the next art project.  These groups are in a constant battle for survival. 

Through my day job, I have also advocated eventually building an amphitheater or some other type of large performance space that might be used for big institutional cultural events, but also for community projects, similar to the Delacorte Theater at Central Park -- maybe not to the same grand physical scale, but serving the same principle. 

Artists need to show their work to an audience, whether they are singers, dancers, actors, painters, writers, sculptors, or any other creative profession.  Their efforts might not usually result in the financial windfall that other businesses reap, but their impact on society is no less important.  I keep thinking that in this day and age, the arts are more needed than ever.  I hope more communities realize that fact and do what they can to propagate the arts and transform any available space into venues for cultural interaction.


Ed said…
Arts groups and groups of artists have always utilized “alternative spaces” in response to lack of availability or lack of money. The best case scenario is that these spaces and the work that gets created in them become part of the fabric of the community in which they sit; and that the space, the work, and the people who make the work begin to be valued in that community.

A permanent space isn’t for everyone. Groups have to have a clear understanding on what it takes both in financial and human capitol to maintain a space. Sometimes the capacity and finances don’t allow for the maintenance of a space. Accordingly, the traditional model of arts groups operating within the traditional non-profit structure is more frequently coming into question as artists create other ways to operate.
Whatever direction is taken, there is no substitute for a dedicated group of like minded individuals who are willing to share the work as well as the applause
Nick said…
Excellent points, Ed.