STATISTA

Statecraft - Pioneer Usage - Representation

In conversation with Allison Freedman Weinberg from recess

Recess is a nonprofit art space in Brooklyn, New York that invites artists to work in a public setting, emphasizing process and dialogue between artists and audiences. Recess aims to build a more vibrant and accessible art world by engaging its communities and helping to keep artists in New York City. Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov spoke with Founder and Executive Director Allison Weisberg about the questions and challenges involved in maintaining this space in the less hospitable landscape of New York.

G
The history of Recess directly mentions the disparity in affordability between where artists live and work and where exhibition audiences are found as an important factor in establishing Recess’s first location. Was it important to you that Recess be situated in a neighborhood with a rich and significant history in the art world? It seems like the decision to locate Recess in Soho was motivated in part by a conscious wish to highlight the neighborhood’s historical importance to artists, which has been practically obliterated, and to reclaim that space.

A
Yes it was important — especially before we made a name for ourselves — that our artists take up space in an established neighborhood with lots of visibility. The neighborhood's rich history allowed us to align with the values of the alternative space movement and reclaim Soho as a creative place. But we take that ethos even further: we want to expand who gets to be included in the arts community. Even in the radical space of 60s and 70s Soho, most of those artists were white males. That has never been the case at Recess.   

G
What were the challenges in finding a space that met your needs both in architecture and affordability in a neighborhood like Soho?

A
Our space was pretty quirky. It didn't really meet our needs! But we made it work.   

G
Does New York City have any legislative infrastructure that supports or protects nonprofit organizations like Recess? 

A
The city offers grants to nonprofit organizations, but those grants are earmarked for direct program costs. Very few grants, government or otherwise, can be used to secure space. We receive money from the City, State, and Federal Government, but that money combined makes up less than 10% of our budget. Most of our money comes from grants from private foundations. We have a sustaining donor program and receive gifts from individuals. We make a very small amount from benefit art editions and space rentals.

G
What was Recess’s relationship to the neighborhood and its community in Soho like? Did Recess specifically engage residents ad neighboring tenants?

A
The thing I loved most about Soho was the incredible range of folks walking in our space. On any given day, we'd host a chic Italian tourist, followed by an office worker coming from 6th Avenue, and then a construction worker from down the block. We also had some regulars from the neighborhood, both newcomers and artists who had been there since the 60s.   

G
When and why did Recess move from Soho to Brooklyn?
A
Soho was an incredible resource and helped put us and our artists on the map. But after eight years, we craved more of a community. We wanted to set down roots in a neighborhood. We had established a small following, and no longer needed the visibility that Soho afforded to get folks to our space. And we had outgrown our storefront in every way possible.

G
How has Recess’s audience changed as a result of this move, and how is the relationship to the surrounding community different than that in Soho?
A
In the beginning of Recess, we relied on the public as our community. Folks walking in the space formed the core of our audience. But it became clear that we were not going to achieve our mission of building a more just and equitable creative community with just an open door policy. So we began more targeted outreach to groups of artists and audiences who have been traditionally excluded in art spaces, galleries, and museums. By reaching out and grabbing diverse communities, we were able to more actively expand our public and in so doing, hopefully redefine an "arts community."

G
With STATISTA, we have been talking a lot about Verstetigung, a process that leads to something becoming permanent, having a lasting existence. Art spaces like Recess are so often exploited in processes of gentrification. How do you and the organization as a whole see Recess within the ecosystem of the New York art world, but also within the city itself?
A
It is important to acknowledge our role as gentrifiers. I never want to split hairs about that. But we hope to become embedded in our community in a long-term capacity to serve as active listeners and partners to our neighbors. Ultimately, if we do our job and achieve our mission, we empower our constituents to take ownership of our organization and take an active role in informing our contribution to the landscape of the city.