SkylineDTPhotoJen Davis

In New York City, an emerging entity called Spaceworks is working to develop long-term affordable rehearsal and studio space.

This month, Paul Parkhill, who was recently appointed as Executive Director of Spaceworks, took the time to answer some questions for ArtPlace:

ARTPLACE: In your own words, what is Spaceworks and why is it important?

PARKHILL: Spaceworks is a start-up nonprofit organization that will build affordable, long-term, high quality work space for visual and performing artists across New York City. Artists, particularly young artists, face huge challenges in New York these days – most struggle to afford a place to live, let alone a place to develop work. We’re trying to make sure that there’s an infrastructure of affordable creative space that allows people to produce art in New York, not just exhibit or perform.

ARTPLACE: What are the goals of Spaceworks?

PARKHILL: The fundamental goal right now is to create as much space as possible as quickly as we can. The need for affordable creative work space is so huge, and the city so large, that we really have to think big. Obviously there are plenty of logistical challenges, and any kind of real estate project in New York is inherently difficult, but Spaceworks is uniquely positioned to make this kind of big vision work. Currently we plan to develop about 100,000 square feet of space in our first five years, although longer term I think we can leverage that initial slate of work to take on larger, more complex development projects that can aggregate work space for artists on an even more ambitious scale.

ARTPLACE: New York City has seen incredible growth in the past 20 years and a big concern is the high price of space. How affordable will the rentals be?

PARKHILL: When I first came to New York about 25 years ago, artists had the luxury of effectively doing all this themselves – you could find big chunks of space in Williamsburg or Long Island City or Port Morris, rent it for almost nothing, and carve up the space with friends if you needed to share the rent. Those opportunities just don’t exist here now. We’re hoping to build out enough space, and keep it affordable enough, to create a strong incentive for artists to live and thrive here. New York City is the capital of the art world and offers plenty of incentives for the creative community, but affordability is a challenge. In terms of cost, we’re talking to a lot of artists right now to get a sense of what they could swing, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep the cost low.

ARTPLACE: What types of public and privately-owned spaces will Spaceworks repurpose? How many spaces are you looking to develop, thus far?

PARKHILL: We’re being opportunistic and looking at literally dozens of sites right now. We’re generally exploring buildings and spaces that are vacant, although there are a couple of sites that I’d characterize as underutilized. The prospects are pretty incredible: old schools on Governors Island; abandoned caretaker apartments in public libraries; century-old institutional buildings that have been largely vacant for decades, and more. Our initial round of work will likely focus on five or six buildings. Most of the units will be small private studios for visual artists and the larger units will become rehearsal spaces for performing artists.

ARTPLACE: What kind of programming does Spaceworks envision?

PARKHILL: Spaceworks is set up to build and manage space for artists. Unlike a lot of cultural organizations that provide competitive residencies or curatorial programs, our mission really focuses on bricks and mortar. However, we plan to partner with local cultural organizations around the city to help activate the spaces and, through these partnerships, we seek to coordinate open studios, events, workshops, and other art-related programs. We’re hoping to cultivate neighborhood artists and develop mechanisms for artists in Spaceworks buildings to work with local communities.

ARTPLACE: Your mandate involves managing partnerships with private owners as well as government agencies with underutilized space and turning them into workspace for artists. What are some of the day to day tasks you carry out to realize the Spaceworks vision?

PARKHILL: Currently we’re in full-on start-up mode, so no two days are the same. In addition to looking at prospective sites in all five boroughs and going through the complex mechanics of putting the deals together, I’ve been meeting with as many people as humanly possible to pick their brains and build partnerships. As I mentioned, we’re strongly invested in working with cultural and community-based organizations that are already established in the neighborhoods where we’re considering projects, so these conversations are critical. We’re obviously spending a lot of time talking to city agencies, most notably the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. We’re also collecting feedback from artists about what kind of space and services will be useful. And then there’s the small matter of building up the organization, hiring staff, creating an office, and about a thousand other logistics. It’s pretty fantastic.


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