By Penny Gray
The New York Times has called HERE (formerly HERE Arts Center) “one of the most unusual arts spaces in New York and possibly the model for the cutting-edge arts spaces of tomorrow.” Kristin Marting, artistic director of HERE, speaks about the shifting cultural scene Downtown and HERE’s place in the middle of it all.
How long have you been with HERE?
I’ve been with HERE since its inception in 1993. I was one of the founders. There were two theater companies that had recently been kicked out of their spaces—The Tiny Mythic Theater and The Home for Contemporary Theatre & Arts. We found each other and discovered that we could do more by combining our efforts.
And what was the combined result?
The result is HERE! We created a multidisciplinary space that could support artists from a variety of disciplines in the hopes that they would start bouncing ideas off of each other. Our aesthetic represents the independent, the innovative and the experimental, and in 17 years, we’ve supported over 12,000 artists and attracted more than 950,000 arts patrons. The core of what we do is develop and support resident artists. Over the course of three years, they develop a project. We show it here, and then hopefully we can launch them on tour.
In your nearly 20 years leading HERE, what changes have you witnessed in the Downtown arts scene?
There are really significant changes in terms of the quality of the work. Among the various artistic disciplines, there is less segregation and more integration. There’s also been a real increase in the range of people participating in arts events Downtown, and an increasing openness to the sort of work that is made down here. Having said that, there’s also been a real shift of available spaces. There has been an addition of spaces but a loss of spaces as well.
Before HERE moved in, very few people went west of Sixth Avenue, but a lot of people come to HERE and I think we’ve really helped open up the neighborhood. We have a young demographic, with most of our patrons in their twenties and thirties, and most of them don’t live Downtown because it’s become so expensive. Downtown really is a state of mind.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the opportunity to work with artists to help them realize what they’re thinking. Every artist thinks in a completely different way, and every end result reflects that. It’s like, every time you create a new product, each new product is a new thing, entirely unrelated to the product before. So the fun and the challenge is in being fresh and open with each project.
What do you like least about your job?
I hate spending so much time raising money. It’s always a challenging task. We’ve got great support on so many levels—a broad range of support—but it’s awfully time-consuming. It’s also a continual struggle to compensate artists for their work. If you averaged out the hours artists work on their products, they’re working for less than minimum wage. It’s frustrating to spend so much time raising money and still not be able to resolve that income gap.
What can we look forward to coming up at HERE?
In December, we have a wonderful show called Stick Up! (Braquage) coming into the space. It’s a French piece of puppet object theater and it’s an absolute delight. The show involves cat burglars, bombs, car chases… it’s very physical. It’s a great piece for the family, lots of fun and quite spectacular.
We’ll also continue with our Puppet Parlors, which Basil Twist curates. Puppeteers of New York pool their resources and present little pieces in a wonderful mélange.
In January, we’ll have more shows from our resident artists. Miranda, by creator, composer, librettist and producer Kamala Sankaram, is a steampunk murder-mystery chamber opera in which the musicians do all of the acting and singing as well. And Chimera, by Deborah Stein and Suli Holum, is an arresting new play inspired by a real-life horror story, which explores what happens when technology shatters our ideas of who we think we are.
How has your Downtown location affected what you do and make at HERE?
We have no pressure to create commercially, so we can support the uniqueness and vision of the artists we work with on their own terms. We have a real freedom to select artists. We don’t have to edit our choices, and the artists don’t have to edit their choices either. The art has integrity and professional quality, but it can be whatever it wants to be.
Photo by Carl Skutsch
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