Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cold Winter Announcements

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DIRT PALACE

JANUARY 2017

WINTER ANNOUNCEMENTS



We Have Some Exciting News!!!!!!
We will be attending RISCA's press conference at 10 am January 19th at the Linden Place Ballroom
for the announcement!!!!!






Dirt Palace is looking for a new Artist in Residence April 1st 
The Dirt Palace is a self organized collective that supports women artists by providing affordable studio space, facilities, shared resources, opportunities and a culture of cooperation. The Dirt Palace is trans-inclusive, strives to be accountable and to work intersectionally.
Seeking experimental feminist with projects that will make use of our current facilities: Legal live/work space with: screen printing shop, letterpress, animation stand, music rehearsal room, wood shop, large shared space for building bigger projects, and library.
Members are expected to attend weekly meetings, monthly work days, do regular chores, keep the kitchen clean, and take a leadership role over running some aspect of the collective project vaguely falling under the conceptual roof of “The Dirt Palace”. If you are interested, all of this (and more!) will be explained in our epic 20 page document called “the Occupancy and Consciousness Agreement” that we will e-mail you upon request. Residencies at the Dirt Palace average about 24 months. We are looking for a commitment of at least a year minimum.

Rent and expenses end up breaking down to about $450 - $470/month:
Rent - $293/month
Heat - $62/month (paid all year round)
Electric - $57 - $69/month (varies)
Internet - $13/month
Sundries - $10/month  (TP, dishsoap,etc)
Netflix - $5-$6/ month (optional)
Parking is included.
We have one cat (baby) and can not take any other cats at this time.

If you would like to learn more contact us at dirtpalace @ yahoo dot com


DECEMBER WINDOW ARTIST: MELANIE BERNIER


THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

2014 - 2016
Second-hand denim and leather clothes, wool, canvas, tencel, thread, bugle beads, suminagashi on
denim, silkscreen on denim, snaps. All are hand-sewn.

This series of flags was created in response to the 2012 City of Boston Nuisance Ordinance which
spurred a rash of underground venue shutdowns in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. The show
houses memorialized in this series are but a few of many private residences where live music was
hosted, and whose tenants were charged with fees, eviction, or legal action as a result of the ordinance.
These are homes where I've played music or shown art, met and grew a family of peers. TYFYS is a
thank you to these houses, as well as a goodbye.


Melanie Bernier is an artist and activist working in fibers, music, performance, and aerobics in
Cambridge, MA. An involvement in underground culture influences her artwork and projects, including
 Punk Rock Aerobics, an alternative aerobics class, and Bardo, a house gallery in Cambridge.
Melanie's work has been shown in NYC, Miami, the Greater Boston Area, and featured in
Papercut MagazineStrangewaysCreative Time Reports,NPR, and 99% Invisible. She was recently
awarded a residency at OxBow School of Art. Melanie has performed in dozens of U.S. cities
with her bands, including NYC, Brooklyn, LA, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Boston. Her
 music projects have been featured in Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, NPR, Impose Magazine, and VICELAND's
 skate show King of the Road. Essays she's written have appeared in the Boston Hassle and the
Advocate. Melanie has acted in films such as Love Between the CoversNautical Nymphs, and Don't 
Drink the Devil's Blood. Her work has been used to raise funds for tribal resistance of the Dakota
Access Pipeline, Planned Parenthood, Ladyfest Boston, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and Girls
 Rock Campaign Boston. Additionally, she has worked for organizations benefiting artists with
disabilities and advocating for marriage equality. 
She was born in 1985 in Hartford, CT, the seventh of nine children. She stopped making trash in 2013.






*****UPDATES*****


Organized "Sunshine Pool & Fence Co.," a group show opening tonight at Machines with Magnets. It's a
rockstar crew, with many gems from the Dirt Palace! Come out -- starts at 7pm on January 12th.

She is also getting ready to bid a sad farewell to Providence next month, when she will be departing for a
desert adventure and a couple months of weaving in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Xander will be doing some things at two of her favorite institutions this month: The RISD Museum &
Anthology Film Archives.

Jan 17th 7pm: Broken Vision Flaherty Seminar event at Anthology Film Archive - programed by Ruth
Somalo. "This visually striking program focuses on eyesight and its influence on our experience. Xander
Marro’s haunting animation work on shoe catalogues, silver molecules, and melting chemistry, and British
artist Dryden Goodwin’s philosophical film both explore the physical act of looking and the tools we use to perceive the world."

Jan 19th 6pm: RISD Museum:  Artist Fellow Xander Marro presents a series of new graphic works that
re-mix garments and textiles swatched from the archive of the Tirocchi sisters, whose dressmaking shop
brought Paris fashions to Providence between 1915 and 1947, into repeat patterns. Influenced by the
Museum’s exhibition on the Tirocchi shop and its accompanying catalog, Xander’s fellowship allowed her
to examine works of art relating to her interests in Providence history, the history of fashion and textile
design, female entrepreneurship, and the New England Italian immigrant communities. Free.
Hint: This program ties in with the mysterious forthcoming announcement we reference at the top of this
digest!!

RACHEL LEWALLEN

Returning to the Dirt Palace for a few quick but sweet months after a year-long absence, RRLEW is taking
a brief hiatus from performing and, instead, pouring creative energy into the craft of routine and
home-building. Cheers to a winter of patience, self-rediscovery, and peace peace peace!

<3


DANIELLA BEN-BASSAT
Has been experimenting with embroidery for the Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. show on 11/12. She also has
some new items up in her webstore available here: http://danbbass.storenvy.com




ALISON NITKIEWICZ


Alison has work in the Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. show at Machines with Magnets.

Check it out in the flesh Thursday, January 12th!


O HORVATH

♥♥♥ REST IN POWER FERAL PINES ♥♥♥
Donate to the Oakland communities affected by the fire




BRIDGET FERAL



Bridget has some new songs in the world: a track on Untergang Institut’s Secret Map v.1 and covers of
love songs that live only in Nina’s art show at MWM.

OPENING OF RECTRIX SET 12.4.2016
Watch the Video
3 views


RECTRIX is performing the Whore Paint Record Release
at Tommy's Place 01/27/2017 with Bed Death

Zornoza is also exhibiting some really old quilt work (17 years old!!!)
In Machines with Magnet's Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. opening  this 1.12.17


***DIRT PALACE LIBRARY HI-LITES***


MONTHLY PICTORIAL TREAT FROM THE DUSTY SHELVES OF THE DIRT PALACE
FURTHERING THE QUEST TO SPREAD FUN
LIKE GIN AND JUICE, MOSTLY GIN



In the 1960s, a UFO/conspiracy theory magazine called PROBE (also known as THE CONTROVERSIAL PHENOMENA BULLETIN) was published out of RI by JOE FERRIERE, late owner of Woonsocket record store JOE’S MOLDY OLDIES. There’s not a lot online about this publication but a few of us library rats/conspiracy freakos are trying to get more info...if you know more about Joe and his work on the
paranormal, or own any issues of Probe and want to share them with us, please get in touch!! This
LA-based mag, unfortunately unrelated to Joe’s work, was originally published under the title PROBE THE UNKNOWN. It’s got some sick articles- writing by Asimov, behind the scenes of the Close Encounters
movie, and some spooky paranormal psychology stuff….




Wednesday, January 4, 2017

SITE VISIT #7 ABC No Rio

The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
ABC No Rio
(Becky Howland holding up tote bag designed by artist Julie Hair)

http://abcnorio.org/


Interviews with Founder Becky Howland and Director Steve Englander
At a Glance
Founded: 1980
Budget:
Staff: 1
Board of Directors: 11
There are no program directors at ABC No Rio. Projects and programs are run by sub-collectives of volunteers.(volunteer run programs, consensus based, fluctuating numbers of volunteers):
Punk/hardcore matinees - usually 8-15 people
Visual arts - 7 - 10
Darkroom - 4 - 6
Zine library - 3 - 5
Print shop - 2
COMA experimental music - 2


About (from ABC No Rio website):


ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture. ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present.


We seek to facilitate cross-pollination between artists and activists. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community. We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts, and cognoscenti. Our dream is of cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists.


Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society's disenfranchised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.


(book by Alan Moore and Marc Miller)
**************************************
(brief history recounted in greatly expanded versions in countless other locations on the internet)


ABC No Rio came out of the The Real Estate show, when a group of artists broke into 123 Delancey Street, right before New Year’s Eve 1979, to create a gallery exhibition criticizing the city of New York’s development policies and disinvestment of the neighborhood. On January 2nd the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development padlocked the building, from the inside, locking the artists from their work and show. Through negotiations with the city, the artists were granted use of  a building that subsequently housed ABC No Rio from 1980 - 2016. Currently the ABC No Rio building at 156 Rivington is slated for demolition with plans to build a new building for the organization at the same address.


ABC No Rio holds a space in both of our imaginations for the punk matinees of the early to mid 90's that we attended as teenagers. (a fact we found out about each other only when we began discussing ABC No Rio recently). What a long history and series of transformations from 1980 till now! It was amazing to interview both Becky Howland who one of the founders, and Steve Englander  who stewarded ABC No Rio as its director from the 90's to the present day,.


We've been told over and over by Becky, and others’ involved in the early days of ABC No Rio, that everyone who was part of that history has a different story and version of the events that went down in 80's that led to the procurement of the No Rio space after the publicity of the shutdown Real Estate Show. For the most part our blog posts have been based on the oral conversations that we’ve had with people. However, Becky’s writing on the early days paints such a portrait of the history that we’ve excerpted a bunch from what she wrote about ABC No Rio in Printed Matter’s, A Book About Colab (and Related Activities).


We broke into an abandoned building for our show about real estate, which opened New Year’s Eve, 1979. Our ragtag bunch did it - and, were rewarded for it- with the space that became ABC No Rio. Amazingly, 35 years later, we own the building. With its program of art and activism, it will remain as what might be called a shrine to defiance, long after we are gone.
Everyone loves a good outlaw story, and, for me this is how it began:
Growing up with the Tumult of assassinations, feminism, and protests against the war in Vietnam - dissent is in my bones. Wending my way from a small town upstate, I arrived in Lower Manhattan in 1974, seeking the community of artists. Nights of gliding to openings, and days of grappling with the reality of the precarious life of an artist. Most artists were living illegally, in commercial loft buildings. If an inspector saw a house plant in a window, a bag of groceries, or a bathtub - Eviction!
By 1979, globally, tension was high - 60 American hostages were taken in Iran. Here at home, real estate values began to climb, and stories emerged of fire marshals forcibly evicting artists from lofts; paintings and possessions dumped on the street. Then, as now, a black woman - Elizabeth Mangum was brutally killed as she resisted eviction from her home in the dead of winter. Under the city glitter, it felt grim, explosive.


Becky recounts how Alan Moore wanted to do a show about real estate and had the idea to break into 123 Delancey to do the show. Becky says “Alan’s friends in Colab weren’t keen on this, so it simmered until we decided to do it anyway, and dedicated it to the murdered woman, Elizabeth Mangum.” This was the first we heard about the Elizabeth Mangum story as impetus and fire for the Real Estate show.


The memories of the early days were fast and loose and somewhat based on timing and coincidence. One of our favorite stories is that, when things started heating up with the city around the Real Estate show, Becky peripherally ended up knowing a woman who was one of the city bureaucrats who had they had to negotiate with. In the not so distant past the woman had been a waitress at a restaurant near where Becky had been working as a plumber’s apprentice. It was a small town coincidence that we are very used to in Rhode Island, where individuals end up having connections from “previous lives” that become part of how people, who might have oppositional interests, are able to see each other as reasonable humans and form unlikely alliances.


Becky describes the course of events leading up to the founding of ABC No Rio: One night we were going around to bars to talk up the Real Estate Show, and then suddenly less than 3 weeks later we were having to figure out how to handle actually having a foot hold into Real Estate. Colab was firm about not wanting to have a fixed location and so we had to regroup from there.


In the end, Becky put her name on the month-to-month lease because no one else would do it.  


After a seven year stint, Becky quit the board around 1987. While relaying this long history of ABC No Rio, from 1980 to the present, well past her own direct involvement, Becky still used the word “we” when describing the changes and fluctuations of the organization. She says “ABC No Rio was important of it’s time because there were virtually no artist spaces in Manhattan and the ownership stake in the building was a toehold in NYC for future ruckus”.


Contextually, in the mid-80’s the whole scene started shifting because of the AIDS crisis. A lot of activity had been happening in bars and clubs, but as people got sick, people started staying home. New York’s landscape started to shift.


Steve Englander had been involved informally in ABC No Rio in the 80's. He left for a bit and came back into the fold through his personal history with squat movements when the group was fighting the city in 1994. It was during this period that No Rio started operating more collectively. Programming came organically. Who showed up is who decided what the programming was. Decision making was based on general consensus. There was a lot of trust and goodwill at this point amongst a group that knew each other well.


It was fascinating to hear Steve riffing on the power of the secretary within boards and organizations, pointing out that the secretary actually writes the history of an organization’s decisions, formulates the language for proposals and resolutions, and can have  a huge amount of influence, even in collective structure. When pressed on how ABC No Rio can exist in NYC with such a modest budget Steve cited two reasons.


  1. “Through ABC No Rio's fabled resourcefulness”
  2. Because of Steve’s personal history with the squatter’s movement and his current residence in a former squat, with incredibly low rent, he is  able to have a salary  much lower than most people could afford with normal NYC rents.


Steve sees his role in the organization as more of a coordinator than a director. His job outside of budgetary administration is to work with the collective members to ensure the success of their programs. However, he is a “dictator” about safety, security and cleanliness. He spends about 10-25% of his time managing volunteers.


What will happen to ABC No Rio? With 7 million dollars raised for their new facility, they still have quite a lot of fundraising to do. However Steve, who seems incredibly pragmatic, is optimistic based on the logic that they represent a part of New York City that’s integral to its identity that has almost vanished, and that elected officials also  seem to understand and have nostalgia for.
Drawings by Becky Howland for "Dear Ivanka" protest


Monday, January 2, 2017

SITE VISIT #6 Colab

The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! 
As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. 

This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is 
supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

COLAB (Collaborative Projects, Inc.) https://collaborativeprojects.wordpress.com/
Interview with founding members Robin Winters and Coleen Fitzgibbon
At a Glance
Founded: 1977
Budget:
Staff:
Board of Directors:
Board of Advisors:
Mission:
Colab started in 1977 with a large (sixty-plus, in three waves thru 1985) group of young artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians & performers living in grungy downtown Manhattan who decided to work together, creating such group efforts as X Magazine, live Colab TV performances on Manhattan Cable, open-call art theme shows (such as Times Sq. Show 1980, the Real Estate Show, Manifesto Show, The Dog Show, The Income & Wealth Show, Just Another Asshole Show, the Doctors & Dentists Show, Exhibit A, etc) and helped create and assist other artists’ venues with Colab’s funding (ABC NO RIO, New Cinema, Nightshift Theater and Spanner Magazine).  Colab was closer in nature to a very large wide open Bloomsbury Group where no one was in control but most of the arts were represented.
****************************************************************************


P: Ok, full disclosure: When I was in the Art Practice graduate program at SVA, Robin Winters, one of the founding members of Colab, was my “mentor”. (Admittedly I have some weirdness around how infantilizing that term is, used by the institution for what was basically your main advisor expected to be on call for intensive “one on ones” - but ultimately it was a wonderful and magical system that worked well when the parties were compatible). I knew that working with Robin would be great, but super felt like I had won the lottery in terms of how generous he was with his time, insight, and perspective. Robin was probably one of the only options of potential advisors who I knew had DEFINITELY done way more illegal things than I had (Definitely a plus, especially while insecurities about buying into the ponzi scheme of art graduate programs were running high). I remember hearing stories of Robin and Coleen Fitzgibbon doing their performance “Take the Money and Run”, where they essentially convinced the audience to give them the contents of their pockets and purses (ie. all of their money!) and then locked the audience in the space and left. I think there was some caveat that, if the audience worked together to get out of the locked space, they may get their money back.


While we were doing research on the history of the Alternative Arts Space movement, it was clear that Colab, although they didn’t run a physical space, had inspired so many other groups, projects and spaces. If we had an opportunity to talk to some members about their history with Colab, we should jump on it.


Anyone could join Colab. All that was required of a potential member was that they attend three consecutive meetings. To have a project supported or funded by Colab, it required three people (two of which had to be official members) and to receive a majority ¾ vote.


A lot has been written about Colab in the last decade or so that we came across in our research: Julie Ault’s Alternative Art New York 1965 - 1985, Exit Art’s Alternative Histories: New York Art Spaces 1960 -2010, Printed Matter’s A Book About Colab (and Related Activities), not to mention the New Museum’s XFR STN” (Transfer Station), media archiving project. Still, given that Robin was a friend, it seemed important to get some stories straight from, at least two of, the horse’s mouths. After poking around Robin’s studio looking at his glass head sculptures and marveling how we had the same antique turquoise sink as we used to have at the Dirt Palace, we sat down with Robin and Coleen at a cafe by both of their studios.


We were interested how exactly Colab was run and how power, duties, and roles were assigned and distributed, and how exactly accountability worked in such an anarchistic scene. With so many people involved over a period of 7 years, we wondered how things played out over what was described to us as three different waves of artists.


There was no ideological united front amongst Colab members, which is something we’ve often thought was important to how the Dirt Palace organized. While we call ourselves a feminist space, there is no hovering ideology that members must adhere to. It’s been a significant part of our project to provide a space and resources to artists with different relationships to feminism, gender and politics. Robin and Coleen explained that there were many disparate points of view  - some were “cottage industry capitalists”, others were interested in anti institutional models, and at one point a group of socialists (not artists socialists) tried to take over a meeting and usurp the group . The initial ideas around organizing had more to do with pooling resources than with shared political agendas. No critics and curators were allowed to join and 50% of Colab members were women.


Early on, Colab meetings adopted Robert’s Rules of Order, and had four officers to make sure that no one “ran off with the money”. But how were roles divided up? Who wrote the grants that funded projects? Coleen recounts that the grant work was mostly done by the women of the group. Having had some short lived experience living in radical communes, where labor was still neatly divided along gender lines, she pointed out that,  because the group did not have a living or space component, that there was more opportunity for equity within gender roles within Colab. Yet some things like grants, more often than not, she remembers, fell to the women of the group. Robin jumps in and disagrees with this version of history. The two go back and forth. We laugh. We’d been warned about the famous Colab arguments. But to be fair, it wasn’t the kind of argument filled with vitriol and real conflict that you want to run from. But rather, it was the kind argument filled with fire that’s safe and warm like an internet play-fighting kitten meme.  Robin and Coleen switched argument topics, and squabble about a summer house that Colab had rented together one time. Coleen’s take on the rental house was that it was a great time where they shared some bonding experiences. The time spent outside the city brought them together and allowed them to have experiences other than meetings and fighting.   Robin counters - The whole summer house thing just codified how bourgeois the roots of Colab were!


We ask about the arguing.
Oh yeah they tell us, only half joking…”the thing about Colab was that most people dropped out because it was a lot of arguing over very little”


Walter Robinson (the brains behind the rental house) writes in A book about Colab:
“Colab held regular meeting, of course, to scheme and plan and do a little bit of work. The greatest attention was typically focused on allocating grant money for a wide range of projects. Meetings were frequently acrimonious and almost universally considered to be pure torture. In fact, you could say that Colab democracy worked because nobody could stand being in charge for very long. It’s an amazing thought: Colab managed to sustain itself as a democratic, collaborative consensual organization because the meetings were unbearable.”


But Robin continues, we also generally got along and enjoyed each other, and most of us are still friends today.
Well there’s Diego, Coleen chimes in.
Yes, Robin agrees, Diego officially disbanded, but we’re still friends.  


While it’s always fun to talk about the drama and disagreements, you can’t talk about Colab without addressing some of its visionary ideas pertaining to organizing artists. Part of Colab’s legacy are some ideas that never got traction in the day, but are still relevant to our current times. Robin had ideas of forming an Artists’ Union and an Artist Bank. The artist union would negotiate and ensure fees for artists working in public venues such as museums, similar in concept to the work W.A.G.E is just doing now. The Artist Bank would own a collection and you couldn’t buy a work of art from the artist union unless you used the artist bank. The bank could be used to leverage capital and directly support artists while simultaneously acknowledging the art world as a 1% system. The bank would serve as a huge resource that could directly empower artists as an organized group within the economic system. Then Robin mentions that the plan had been for Jeffrey Deitch to run the bank.


The mind boggles at all the possible outcomes had this scheme ever been put into motion.

This reminds us that we have been meaning to check out local PVD braniac and artist Tom Sgouros' book on community banking Checking the Banks. More Research to come!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

SITE VISIT #5 Lia Gangitano and Participant Inc

2016! The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! 
As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. 

This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is 
supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

PARTICIPANT INC : Interview with Executive Director, Lia Gangitano
(the basement office)
At a Glance
Founded: Participant Inc was founded in December 2001 as an educational corporation and not-for-profit alternative space
Budget: $300k
Staff:
Board of Directors: 17
Board of Advisors: 17
Mission:
Founded in December 2001 as an educational corporation and not-for-profit alternative space, PARTICIPANT INC seeks to provide a venue in which artists, curators, and writers can develop, realize, and present ambitious projects within a context that recognizes the social and cultural value of artistic experimentation. The mission of PARTICIPANT INC is to serve artists through in-depth consideration, presentation, and the publishing of critical writing; and to introduce this work into public contexts through exhibitions, screenings, performances, and educational programs. Our mission builds upon alternative space methodologies, particularly a commitment to interdisciplinary, intergenerational exhibition making, and an insistence upon placing together, in one space, work from various mediums — encouraging the coexistence of visual and time-based art. The programming priorities of PARTICIPANT INC reflect the premise that artists produce significant work through a deep relationship with an organization whose focus is its committed collaborations with them. By encouraging experimentation and project-based exhibitions for artists at many different stages of their careers, PARTICIPANT INC strives to address the changing context of alternative arts presenting and to respond responsibly to the diverse practices of artists.


*************************


We knew that meeting with Participant Inc’s director, Lia Gangitano, would be inspiring, but weren’t quite prepared for her idiosyncratic perspective on the work done by Participant. For god’s sake, she compared the approach of Participant to Fassbender’s film “Beware of a Holy Horror” and described herself as a “scrapbooker” when asked about Participant’s archiving practice!!!!!!!! Meeting with Lia painted a picture of a NYC alternative space as: ensemble cast, dysfunctional family, and a commitment to a labor of love. All things we could intimately relate to.


Lia had been the curator from 1997 - 2001 at Thread Waxing Space, a non-profit arts and education space, whose mission was:
To present exhibitions, performances, musical events, readings, and panel discussions by and with emerging or under-recognized artists to stimulate dialogue about the contemporary arts, to make artistic projects more accessible to the public, to encourage collaborations among different creative disciplines, to provide a venue in which artists, performers and musicians may realize ambitious projects, to educate the public about the contemporary arts in the immediate area of the Lower East Side, Soho, Tribeca, Chinatown, as well as throughout the five boroughs of New York.”


In 2001 TWS was losing their space and started a major real estate search. Eventually to the surprise of everybody, instead of announcing a new location, the director announced that it would be closing.


Lia spent time questioning and thinking hard about the continued relevance of an “alternative space” model. Commercial galleries had started to incorporate many of the approaches and concerns that had been at the core of the alternative space movement, yet were poised to leverage more resources.  With time and consideration, Lia redoubled her commitment to the “artist driven” model of Thread Waxing Space and began the process of simultaneously packing up an institution and starting a new one.


The last show at TWS with Sigalit Landau (where she constructed a room size cotton candy machine that started to rot and decay as the exhibit went on) ended in June of 2001. In September 9/11 happened and everything in NYC went into lockdown. Certain things like getting insurance became impossible, and the idea had surfaced to experiment with a nomadic model, as maintaining and paying for physical space was a huge undertaking. With consideration, Lia came to the decision that space was core to her vision for Participant. With this her vision sharpened and her commitment to starting a new project increased in intensity.


The decision to locate in the LES was based on the practicalities of that moment of time. It had been her neighborhood for years, and as post 9/11 logistics in general became more difficult, neighborliness became everything. In fact, the only way she could find an insurance carrier was through the help of long time neighbors rather than colleagues. By 2002 Lia had secured a physical space for Participant at 95 Rivington, using her severance from TWS to sign the new lease.  


With an annual operating budget currently of $300k, about a third of this is spent on rent. This is a business model that doesn’t make sense to lots of people attempting to understand it from the outside. However, conceptually the logic behind it is that as a not-for-profit, one of Participant’s goals is to broker assets that are critical to independent artists, yet often out of their reach. In NYC space itself is a resources that is necessary, scarce, and one of the things that an alternative space project, and its institutional credibility and infrastructure, can be incredibly useful in helping to navigate.


Participant was jumping off from in the 1970’s artist run space model which often involved a political imperative and a concern around what voices weren’t at the table. Not explicitly “artist run” Participant gravitated towards the term “artist driven”. Against a backdrop of diminishing resources and gentrification, Participant sought to continue the project of the original model of these past spaces; building community and growing through a network of artists bringing in other artists. In the early days of the Rivington space (Participant’s first location), the New Museum hadn’t yet moved to the area. The organization engaged a mixed audience of those seeking out art, and neighborhood passerbys.


The majority of Participant’s funding comes from private foundations. There are city and state grants in the mix, but these add up to less, and are slow to increase. Federal funding through the NEA has played a role in supporting specific projects, such as archiving and publications. One point that Lia made about funding that was interesting to note was that had she thought to (and had been able) to transfer the EIN from Thread Waxing Space to Participant, rather starting totally from scratch this would have given her an automatic leg up in the NYSCA granting pool as money to organizations is largely based on previous allocations and if you’re starting from zero, it’s a tall hill to climb with lots of hoops to jump through.


As with many small art not-for-profits (and businesses), Lia works hard to pay artists fairly, and often prioritizes paying other contributors to the project before herself. Her personal teaching, speaking, and consulting jobs often indirectly subsidize Participant.  Currently the staffing structure includes Lia as director, a publications associate, a development associate, a facilities manager, a curatorial associate, a curatorial researcher, and a web manager. Lia’s position is the only one that is full time and this fluctuates based on budget realities. She currently does not receive health insurance as part of her compensation package, though there are board members currently prioritizing this development.


A majority of the Participant board and advisory council are artists. The board meets quarterly and as needed on specific issues. There are no board dues or expectations around annual giving, however it’s fairly hands on with fundraising, editions projects and legal and logistical issues around the occupancy of the space . The board is close knit, works well together and does not involve itself with programming issues. The advisory board is located in various parts of the world and is fairly global and informal. It plays various roles including helping to tip Lia off to interesting artists, shows and work that she does not have the resources to see first hand.


Institutional knowledge and the history of Participant’s shows is fairly well documented in both paper and digital archives. Lia stressed the importance of her speaking and lecturing as an integral part of building institutional memory through documentation and dissemination, as the information is being recorded, and transmitted externally rather than just internally.


In the effort to articulate the “relevance of the small“ and the “deferred value” generated by smaller arts endeavors (ie. finding quantifiable measures and outcomes of value further down the road), Lia is part of a coalition of fairly established NY small scale alternative spaces called Common Practice. Common Practice New York draws inspiration from Common Practice, London, an affiliated advocacy group working for the recognition and fostering of the small-scale contemporary visual arts sector in England, and founder of the Common Practice Network.
The first Common Practice New York initiative included a series of three invitational roundtables on contemporary institutional practice organized in collaboration with students and faculty from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard), which took place in fall 2013, and a public symposium developed in response to these seminars on May 18, 2014. In 2015, nine new groups became members of Common Practice New York. Currently, the group is planning a number of new initiatives for 2016.


While we waded waist deep in the weeds of organizational systems and practices with Lia, the conceptual issue that kept surfacing in our conversation was “Do you have to be precarious to not suck?”. In other words we bumped up against that age old tension between institutional growth and stability and boringness of mission. She stressed the need to constantly re-evaluate and re-envision. This sentiment was inline with one of the more inspirational institutional practices that we heard about at this year’s Common Field convening from Director of Baltimore’s The Contemporary, Deana Haggag. The Contemporary’s board seriously discusses its mission annually, and in doing so has a built a board culture that values the process of continually evaluating their own relevance.
Within the collective structure of the Dirt Palace we hold an annual summit (an all day meeting) where we set aside time to ask big picture questions, check in on what is working and what is not, adapt and change practices. Listening to Lia was a reminder of the importance of diligent in asking these questions & building in structures that force us to consistently return to questions of relevance and purpose in crafting programs and approach.


Lia left us in a positive place in our thinking about precarity, and the challenge of cobbling together resources for small alternative spaces. “The thing about having money problems being your main problem, is that when the money comes in, the problems go away”.  Her reasoning was, that if/when the check clears, it becomes obvious that the organization, its systems, ideas, concepts, relationships etc aren’t broken at all, and that that is a good place to be. Lots of institutions and organization have huge issues that go way beyond cash flow. With Participant it’s clear that all of the “other stuff” is working really well. Its reputation is rock solid. Literally everyone who we told that we we’re doing a site visit at Participant had glowing things to say about the model, Lia’s stewardship, or some show that they’d seen there that was super exciting.