Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A panel on creating and sustaining the arts on the Lower East Side

The Lo-Down
and Educational Alliance's Manny Cantor Center

co-presented an April 28 discussion:

The State of the Performing Arts

on the Lower East Side

Traven Rice (left) and Ed Litvak
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

The two founding publisher/editors of The Lo-Down--
a print and online publication covering Lower East Side news and culture--
introduced the evening's program.

Hosted by Educational Alliance's Manny Cantor Center,
panelists from La MaMa, Abrons Arts Center, Elevator Repair Service and Dixon Place
discussed their organizations' missions and challenges
in light of the changing development and demographics of the Lower East Side and of New York City as a whole.
John Collins, founding Artistic Director, Elevator Repair Service
with Traven Rice
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Collins says his troupe "owes everything to that downtown spirit"
of venues like La MaMa where ERS maintains its office space.
"It's a willingness to take a risk, to fail,
to try things where no one knows what the outcome will be," Collins says.
"Significant careers get launched, a kind of faith gets expressed, in these venues."
Jay Wegman, Director, Abrons Arts Center
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

As part of a social service agency (Henry Street Settlement) where provision of community and youth education has always taken precedence,
Grand Street's Abrons Arts Center has struggled to effectively market its arts offerings to potential local audiences.

"80% of our audiences comes from outside this neighborhood," says Wegman.
"This is a neighborhood of families--people in the 30s and 40s who [come off work] and just want to go home and stay home."

Under Wegman's focus, though, Abrons has become an acclaimed presenter of cutting edge productions.
Artists want to be shown there, and audiences travel from all over to see them.
Ellie Covan, Founder/Artistic Director, Dixon Place
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

"It's hard to be a multi-genre space," says Covan.

That includes the usual slate of theatrical genres plus puppetry, burlesque, circus, vaudeville
and probably anything else you might or might not imagine.

 "We do it all. The funders are confused, the press is confused," she says.
"But it's part of our mission to be inclusive and cast a wide net."

Dixon Place also gets a big bang from drinkers' bucks at its popular bar.
"I wish this would catch on here like it has in London, in Europe," says Covan.
As long as patrons keep drinking, Covan's venue will keep ticket prices low and stay open as
"a place for artists to figure out what they're doing."

As for Essex Crossing, the city's glitzy, mixed-use development project
that will include, among other features, the Andy Warhol Museum,
Covan and her colleagues expressed no concern about potential competition.

"I don't feel competition with other spaces for audiences," says Covan. "Bring it on!"
And Wegman concurs, eager for more foot traffic that might help everyone's fortunes.
Nicky Paraiso, Director of Programming, The Club at La MaMa
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

With the loss of legendary founder Ellen Stewart in 2011,
La MaMa is "an older, established institution revitalizing itself without giving up its mission," says Paraiso.

Paraiso admits that he "never studied to be a curator." Instead, he took his cues from Stewart, who told him,
"Baby, you know all these people! What do you want to do, Baby?"

It was a trial by fire. Under the leadership of Stewart's successor, Mia Yoo, Paraiso continues his practice of talking and working closely with artists.
He tells them, "We will find a way to help you--like young, gay playwrights who don't find a home in more conventional Off-Broadway theater."

He cites La MaMa's intergenerational mentorship initiatives as an important part of the organization's mission, mentioning his pleasure at watching how generous Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, in particular, have been with younger artists at La MaMa.

"I'm helping artists because I am one."

For information on future events at Manny Cantor Center, click here.

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