The Space Race
There are a few things I have come to believe are true: Justin Bieber’s monkey is more famous than I will ever be; there are more self-proclaimed artists in the world than at any time in history; and the arts are the next big export—both here in Washington, D.C., and abroad.
All three of these truths lead to a problem we have in our cultural communities. We need more space.
With YouTube, an iPad, and Kickstarter, anyone can create and distribute art while sitting in front of the computer in their underwear (no…not THAT kind of art). Some artists can even launch careers from the keyboard. But it is not enough to think of art as an activity performed in isolation, behind the curtain of technology.
I have learned that many people in my community feel the same way. Sure, it’s easy to rehearse and perform a play in your living room, read chamber music in a basement, and labor over paintings in the garage for hours—but if no one sees your art, does it have any real impact?
While finding performance space is often the key stumbling block, locating adequate rehearsal (or studio) space is an equally important challenge. Without an appropriate place to cultivate art, there is no true quality control of the product. Don’t believe me? Ask a dancer.
One way to overcome this problem is to throw money at it. Michael Kaiser of The Kennedy Center, along with Chairman David Rubenstein and host of other donors are doing just that. They have an ambitious expansion program in mind to create more space for Kennedy Center education programs, alternative performance space, and even public windows into rehearsal rooms!
For those of us who don’t have $100 million lying around, there are other great ideas.
The folks at AS220 in Providence, RI, have created an amazing space (and they started with just $800). The history is simple and wonderfully energizing.
A few artists lived, more or less, as squatters. They scraped together money to officially rent a small studio. More artists were added for nominal fees. The city caught wind of this and, luckily, worked with the artists to create permanent space in a bad neighborhood.
The block started to clean itself up thanks to influx of young, hip inhabitants. And now, AS220 encompasses several city blocks, runs a restaurant to pay for the adjoining performance space, presents unjuried/uncensored art year-round, and rents out retail space to pay for community artist housing and studios. Could someone please light my candle?
If turning an entire tent city into Avenue A seems a little ambitious, there are ways to start small.
I have seen success with restaurant space doubling as performance space—especially for late night crowds. Many restaurants (outside of New York) won’t make money after 10 p.m. If you can bring a show, concert, or event after normal operating hours, and your audience will eat or drink, the restaurant would be foolish not to stay open.
At my organization, Washington Performing Arts Society, our education team does a great job of finding what sometimes seems impossible. We partner with other existing summer programs to share space and students at camp. We turn a museum full of kids into a concert hall on the weekends in August. We even use churches as rehearsal space for our choirs.
It’s not that we’re just looking for free space—the partnerships we form with other organizations create more enriching programming by sharing resources such as instruments, faculty, students, and knowledge.
One key ingredient in finding adequate space for your organization or project seems to be sharing. Collaboration is a hot topic in the arts lately, both on the programming and funding side of things. Find partners, friends, or anybody with complimentary needs, and work together. This will help you better utilize space, encourage new ideas, and get funding.
What are your experiences, successes, and failures in finding space for art? Share below so we can all learn from one another!