Thursday, November 24, 2011


Occupy Wall Street group looks to open arts space
The movement’s Arts and Culture committee is in discussions to find a multi-purpose space to use for studios and exhibitions

By Helen Stoilas. Web only
Published online: 24 November 2011

NEW YORK. A group within the Occupy Wall Street movement is in discussions to find a multi-purpose, indoor arts space, which is to be used for “studio space, rehearsals, concerts, storage, performances, exhibitions, teach-ins, film screenings, art classes for children, sleeping, etc”, according to its website. The Arts and Culture committee of the New York City General Assembly, the protest group behind the movement, is planning to use shared office space on Wall Street with other Occupy groups, and is considering another offer from the arts blog Hyperallergic to borrow space in its Brooklyn offices, among other options.

“After the troubling Zuccotti Park eviction [of the protesters’ camp on 15 November] we were afraid that the group may not have the resources to continue their work,” says Hrag Vartanian, the editor of Hyperallergic, which has covered the protests closely since they started two months ago. “Regardless of how we might feel about specific projects or objectives of the arts and culture committee, we think what they are doing is important.” Vartanian has invited the group to use his space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, free of charge, saying he thinks it is “in keeping with the mood of the times that those of us with resources think of ways we can share them with those who may not have the same level of access. From our perspective, the need for generosity and empathy is at the root of Occupy Wall Street.”

The group discussed the offer on 22 November, and while a consensus had been reached on moving into the shared office space on Wall Street, options for a multi-purpose arts space are still being explored.

The arts and culture committee is one of the largest groups in the Occupy Wall Street movement and has been at the heart of the protest from the outset, helping to organise actions, design puppets and posters, and create works inspired by the protesters’ ideals. A few exhibitions in public galleries have already taken place of art produced by protesters or inspired by the movement. Among these is an evolving window installation at the non-profit organisation, Printed Matter, which is set to close on 26 November, and the display “This Is What Democracy Looks Like” at NYU's Gallatin Galleries, which also closed earlier this month. The exhibition “Occupied” at the independent bookstore Bluestockings on Allen Street runs until 8 December.

“In only two months, the amount of genuinely good design, video and creative activism not to mention traditional forms [produced through the Occupy Wall Street movement], has been staggering,” says Keith Miller, an artist, writer and film-maker who curated the show at NYU, where he also teaches. “That there has been enough work to warrant a space is clear. In our show, we very quickly and easily filled the walls in only three weeks. In the end we had to turn away a lot of work (once the walls were filled, the show was essentially closed).”

Keith Gray, the programming assistant at Printed Matter who helped organise its show, says that “because of the political, social and cultural impact of Occupy Wall Street” the alternative space had been looking for a way to connect with the movement. “After all, we have overlapping missions, because artists’ books are all about an egalitarian and inclusive artistic practice—art for regular people, not just the rich,” he says, adding that that the window installation “seemed like the perfect way to get things started, because it was immediately available” and there was a “direct relationship” between the “Colab” exhibition the gallery was already showing and the Occupy Wall Street movement. “Historically, Colab came together in the wake of the 1970’s recessions, and on the eve of Reagan’s ushering in the era of policies of financial deregulation and social austerity which continues to this day. Also, it seemed like a positive contribution we could make to our own class-stratified community, by providing Occupy Wall Street with a little platform in Chelsea.”

Since being evicted from Zuccotti Park by Mayor Bloomberg last week, the movement has been scattered around the city, and small groups have been temporarily occupying a number of buildings. Miller says that, while many commentaries about the leaderless movement have called for “a sense of clarity” and something more permanent, “this has great promise but just as many challenges. Permanence can offer stability but also risks ossification and stagnation.” He says the excitement and spontaneity at the heart of the movement “makes the adventure of participation feel like an event. Checking in to an office doesn't, even if you love your job.”

The Occupy Wall Street group itself says they have not yet found a space that satisfies a “wish-list” of features they’d like to have for art production. “There are some great precedents here in New York of art spaces emerging from protest. We're trying to learn about those, and reach out to the folks who helped establish them for inspiration and guidance,” says Paul McLean, a member of the arts and culture committee. He stresses that he does not serve as an official spokesman for the group but has been involved in the discussions and is one of several co-organisers of the online archive The Occupennial, which documents the artistic production that has come out of the protest. “On the whole the outlook for our developing a network of available or host venues/work sites is very promising, because Occupy has a great deal of goodwill working in our favour, and we're trying to be responsible in nurturing that goodwill into sustainable relationships.”

As the movement persists, despite attempts by city officials and police to disperse protesters, a permanent solution for the arts and culture group may be the only option. “In the end, I think it's a necessary step as the movement outgrows its current spaces,” says Miller.

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