SPACEWORKS_NOV

In New York City, an entity called Spaceworks is working to develop long-term affordable rehearsal and studio space. This month, Paul Parkhill, Executive Director of Spaceworks, talks to ArtPlace about the program.
ARTPLACE: Spaceworks has gained traction with several stakeholder groups in New York City. Can you tell us a little about the different partnerships Spaceworks is exploring?
PARKHILL: A few years ago the Department of Cultural Affairs started to identify the best way to address the crisis of affordability for artists in New York City, and came up with the idea for Spaceworks as an independent nonprofit that could navigate complex real estate transactions to build long-term work spaces for artists. Critical early funders included ArtPlace, the Revson Foundation, the New York Community Trust, The David Rockefeller Foundation, Deutsche Bank, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. These partnerships remain at the core of the organization.

Since part of the objective is to create partnerships to help facilitate programming and space management, it’s been critical to develop relationships with local arts organizations rooted in the neighborhoods where our projects will be located. We have subsequently built up strong relationships with the Brooklyn and New York Public Library systems, the Trust for Governors Island, and a variety of arts service organizations and cultural organizations around the city.

 

ARTPLACE: Civic leaders are experimenting with new roles for library buildings across the country. Major technological change and the desire for publicly accessible community space have created an opportunity to expand the definition of how a community uses its libraries. What role might Spaceworks initiatives play in libraries?

PARKHILL: Libraries remain an incredibly important public resource, but the way they are used has changed dramatically in the last decade or two. In addition to the changes related to the proliferation of electronic media, libraries are increasingly used for a range of community and arts-related activities, from concerts to media centers to yoga classes.

The arts uses that Spaceworks will bring to the branches are thus very much in keeping with the overall trajectory of libraries as a whole. Spaceworks is currently working with both the Brooklyn and New York Public Library systems to build both rehearsal spaces and visual art studios in vacant or underutilized library branches. We see this as an opportunity to attract new users to the libraries while creating spaces that the branches can also utilize. So this is a great way not only to expand library services, but also to invest in the buildings themselves.

ARTPLACE: Economic development remains a top priority for many civic leaders. A high quality of life makes cities more attractive for new start-up business as well as for established businesses looking to relocate. How does affordable workspace and the presence of artists contribute to this hard-to-quantify but essential factor of quality of life?

PARKHILL: Art has multiplier effects: it utilizes local resources; it leads to new creative businesses and activities; it supports cultural institutions; and it attracts smart, interesting people, whether or not they work in the creative sector.

I think art enhances everyone’s quality of life, particularly in places like New York where it is ingrained in the fabric of the city. Quality of life is subjective of course: for some people it means amenities; for some it means a dynamic, vibrant environment; for some it means a comfortable, affordable place to live and work. The tricky part is balancing all of these factors: if a place is too expensive, it squelches certain kinds of creativity. We’re trying to address that. New York is always going to be a place that attracts a lot of artists, but we can certainly do more to make their quality of life better. So Spaceworks will have a multiplier effect as well.

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