Saving Six Small, Radical and Essential Arts Organizations

Saving Six Small, Radical and Essential Arts Organizations

Team Works, a collective benefit for six New York City-based nonprofits, asks you to help further their essential missions in a time of need.


B y the middle of March in New York City, governor Andrew Cuomo had just declared quarantine – New Yorkers began to shelter at home and like everyone during this period, art organizations began planning their futures in this new isolated world. Museums, galleries, art studios, bookstores and nonprofits were forced to close their doors and adapt their programming and business models to exist primarily online. But for smaller art spaces that were dependent on fundraising and public engagement, Covid-19 presented even more challenges. “When the shutdown started we realized all of a sudden that it had very serious financial implications for all of us,” says Pati Hertling, deputy director of Performance Space New York, a nonprofit arts center in the East Village. It’s one of six arts institutions, along with Creative Time, Printed Matter, Socrates Sculpture Park, Storefront for Art and Architecture, and Swiss Institute that joined forces during the pandemic.

From left: The Swiss Institute and Printed Matter.

Each organization produces, promotes, exhibits and supports the work of living artists, and in doing so they make up an essential part of New York’s cultural landscape. “We realized that we are all in one city together, we're all dependent on the same contingencies, and we are all colleagues working together with very similar missions. We had been talking about this already over the years – that we are all stronger together – but the crisis really brought that mix together.” The group created Team Works, a benefit sale to aid their six organizations. Together they secured artworks by some leading contemporary artists, among them Jenny Holzer, Roni Horn, Gabriel Orozco, Cindy Sherman and Nari Ward. “Artists are asked to help fund nonprofits all the time, and it was important that we give the artists 50 percent if they wished because we wanted to look at it as a collaborative effort,” says Hertling. The artworks are available now for purchase on Sotheby’s website, with all proceeds from Team Works benefitting these six nonprofits to further their essential missions during this time of need. “I think small organizations are the leaders of innovation and creative experimentation and are the ones that can do more radical things,” she says. “If we want to keep the city alive and maintain the vibrant culture of the city, we need these smaller organizations to be able to do what they do.”

Learn more about the genesis of the collective benefit below, with questions answered jointly by the six organizations.

How did your organizations come together during this difficult time?
By recognizing that we were all facing similar questions and issues about the future, it became very clear that working together, rather than in parallel, would have a much greater impact. We created Team Works around the simple idea that a benefit sale would be more successful and fair to contributing artists if organized collectively: a more focused and resonant way to raise support for small contemporary art nonprofits in a moment when togetherness is essential.

How has the pandemic affected your operations, artists, staff and ability to move forward?
While the pandemic has affected our organizations in more ways than one, we’ve been able to not only keep our staff but also keep an ongoing, open dialogue with our artists. Their support has played a fundamental role in helping us maintain our spirits to move forward. In turn, we hope that their generosity will allow all of us to continue the unique legacy of NYC being the birthplace of so many innovative art practices.

What changes are we seeing in the art world now?
The artist’s voice has become more powerful now than any of our organizations have ever witnessed before. As debates about the societal role of arts and arts institutions are taking place, it has become increasingly evident that the need for art as a mode of communication and action is greater than ever. And small organizations, which are the ones working most closely with today’s artists, have a unique role to play as behemoth structures keep falling short of heightened expectations.

How are your organizations creating new programming that engages with artists and the community in this moment of social distancing?
Our organizations have continued to engage with our communities in myriad ways, including online programming, window projects, outdoor public sculptures, digital broadcasting, etc. Whatever the form, despite the truncated aspects of such experiments, we have all experienced a deeper, more intimate connection with our audiences – which only makes us more eager to reopen.

How did the artists come to support these organizations? What are they donating?
Most of the artists, when approached, responded with great positivity towards the coalition of our six organizations as the opportunity to support a future of collaboration and togetherness in the art world is worthy and meaningful. Due to the urgency with which Team Works had come together, most of the works that are presented are pre-existing works. However, the selection made by each artist reflects a thoughtful and more institutional approach in response to the current times and our coalition.

Take Gabriel Orozco’s sculpture, Modular Sequence: Caterpillar, 2015, which was specifically selected by the artist for Team Works. Originally created for an exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum in 2016, the artist referred to the sculpture as a “mosquito” because it interrupted the natural flow of the exhibition. Today, an interrupter is a welcome savior as well as a reminder that our world is in constant motion. The sculpture connects multiple joints together to become something new and greater, precisely what we have done by joining forces through Team Works.

Will your organizations continue to work together in the future?
This is just the beginning. We are looking forward to collaborating with each other as opportunities arise and to building a stronger community amongst our organizations and artists. If there’s one thing we learned from this pandemic, it is that success is not achieved solely alone.

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