Every Exit Is an Entrance

Alternative Spaces Migrate to Survive

Covan is also one of many in the nonprofit world now talking about earned income to supplement that shrinking funding pie. A building would have rehearsal space they could rent. A building could have a bar—with acts, of course. And Dixon Place would build equity.

The SculptureCenter, for example, owned its old building on East 69th Street. They were founded by artists in 1928, bounced to three different locations much the way nonprofits do now, then managed to buy in 1948. By the end of the century, East 69th was prime real estate, but isolated from any arts scene. Selling enabled the SculptureCenter to buy a building halfway between P.S.1 and MOMA Queens, pay for the first stage of renovation, and set up a $1 million endowment.

Artists Space, founded in 1972 as one of downtown's first "alternative spaces," also wants to buy—perhaps on the Lower East Side. Executive director Barbara Hunt says they know for sure that they won't follow the commercial galleries to Chelsea. "We'd rather be where the artists are." This is another aspect of the ongoing flight from Soho and Tribeca. Roulette, the new-music and multimedia venue, is in one of the last artists' buildings in its Tribeca vicinity. High-end condos have changed the ambience, and a new bar downstairs means they can't do a quiet concert. Roulette's Jim Staley says they're looking in Brooklyn, for a rental. Movement Research, with studio space in Soho and an office in Noho, hopes to move the two together somewhere in Manhattan.

Exit Art's Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo at their new Tenth Avenue digs
photo: Robin Holland
Exit Art's Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo at their new Tenth Avenue digs

The scene is atomizing. While artists like to be in proximity, they seem to be moving into clusters now. If Hell's Kitchen, or whatever the developers name it, becomes a new artists' neighborhood, it will be one of many. Meanwhile, a wise landlord might take a look at what greed accomplished in Soho. A few important galleries remain, but there are lots of empty storefronts, and no buzz. It's a wealthy wasteland.

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