The Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, led by Kyoung H. Park, has created a series of interviews with artists and arts leaders to address issues of diversity and social inclusion in contemporary performing arts. Over the course of the next few months, we will highlight interviews with artists who are in conversation with our team to ask ourselves how we can insure that people from all points on the age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and cultural spectra have a place in the conversation. We invite members of our community to help us gather more information by completing our artist surveys here, and stay tuned as we synthesize our findings and share them online.
Thanks for your time. I was wondering if you could introduce yourself before we start our interview?
Sure. I’m Kristin Marting and I’m the Artistic Director of HERE and a director of hybrid work.
Could you talk about how you began working at HERE and your history with the organization?
We started in 1993 and I’m one of the four founders. HERE was an initial marriage between HOME for Contemporary Theater and Art, which used to have a theater on Walker Street, and Tiny Mythic Theatre Company, which was based at the Ohio Theatre on Wooster Street. We were both working in this neighborhood and we were both looking for a permanent home and we couldn’t find the right space for one of us, so we got together to find a space that could work for both of us. The goal was to have a place that was for all disciplines—theatre, music, dance, puppetry, and media arts—and initially, we had a café and a gallery and three theatres.
Was that interdisciplinary nature always part of the vision for HERE?
The interdisciplinary, not as much, but the presence of all the disciplines and the way they would rub off each other was always part of it. There wasn’t much hybrid work happening at that time, that’s just something that I think evolved a lot here, because we had the mixture of different disciplines present in our original intention.
How was it rubbing off before it started manifesting itself in the work?
That’s interesting. I just think that’s from the experience people had by walking into this space… Where we’re sitting is actually half of what the gallery was—it went down all the way down to the corner, so it was a big space. You had to walk through the visual art to go to the theatres and it encouraged collaborations to happen because there were music artists, and there were theatre artists, and there were visual artists, all working in the same place. It encouraged conversations to happen, and then collaborations started to happen in the context of making theatrical work.
Is there a moment in which that loose association between artists became more structured into the programming?
Yeah. Initially, HOME and Tiny Mythic Company were the founding organizations and HERE was a vessel for the organizations. We had seven or eight other organizations that we invited in as smaller partners and everything was bartered because we had no money. The organizations would exchange doing things like box office shifts and in exchange they got theatre space for a cheaper price – I think it was just a few tickets each night. It was a crazy deal and we nearly shut down just because of how bad our math was.
So then what happened was that we merged HOME and Tiny Mythic and became one organization and all the programs that HOME were doing and all the programs that Tiny Mythic were doing started to happen under one artistic entity.
Then, as we thought about how we each made work, we decided to make a home for artists that was longer term, so we started HARP, our artist residency program. When we started that program, that’s when the real focus on hybrid work became more formalized because HARP is all about mid-career, hybrid artists.
HARP’s an opportunity for each artist to create a hybrid work in a community of other artists that don’t necessarily work the same way as you, and each artist makes their own project. Natural collaborations started to happen between the artists even though they don’t have to work with each other—that just happens.
Could you also talk about The American Living Room and the Queer @ HERE programs?
Sure. Those programs happened earlier in our history. American Living Room was started by Tiny Mythic, my original company, and it was based at the Ohio Theatre. Initially, Tiny Mythic had a focus on emerging directors work, so we chose our season by choosing directors, not by picking playwrights, and by asking directors what they wanted to do. The American Living Room was a directing cabaret, so it featured three different, young directors each week, over six weeks, so there’d be eighteen different shows on Saturday nights at the Ohio Theatre. There was no air conditioning, it was $5 dollars to get in, it was hot, hot, hot, but people loved to come and they’d wait in line around the block. It was the only summer festival in New York City at that time, there was nothing else happening—we were like the only game in town.
Then, we expanded the American Living Room to include a performance series, a music lounge, a puppet parlor and a film and video salon once we moved over to HERE. The American Living Room was Saturdays and Sundays, the performance series was on Fridays, the music lounge was on Thursdays, and we were using up all of the nights of the week to have these kinds of programs. The festival expanded to nine weeks and we held the festival for nineteen years. Even though we had higher production values than most of the summer festivals, we decided that there were a ton of summer festivals in town and we didn’t feel that the purpose it was originally founded for (to give emerging artists a place to work because they didn’t have that) was happening everywhere, so the festival wasn’t serving its special purpose and we ceased it before we turned twenty.
We did Queer @ HERE for about six years and initially, we did it in June during Gay Pride to call attention to queer work. We work with queer artists year around, but it was a way to call attention to the work in a political and social context. But what we found was that the kind of artists we were most interested in producing didn’t want to be segmented into a queer festival, so that was another program that we thought worked for quite a while, but then we felt that the artists we enjoyed the most and were most interested in working with didn’t want to do the festival, so for us, it became a less interesting festival, artistically speaking. Today, we continue to do tons of queer work but don’t try to segment it to say: this is the time of year.
During all of these years, where have you been as an artist? You also direct and produce hybrid work.
Originally, I founded Tiny Mythic with two other directors and a performer, with whom I collaborated a lot, because we were young directors and didn’t want to go on the route of assisting other people for years and finally get to direct something when we were like 35. We thought that what we brought to a classic at 21 and what we brought to a classic at 35 would be different. We did mostly deconstructions, or original works, or classics that we infused in different ways. When we started our company, there weren’t a lot of young companies, that’s a model that has totally exploded in the city and across the country, which is exciting because there’s a huge vibrancy!
My work has always been multi-disciplinary. I did this dance-theater work for a long time using this “gestural vocabulary” that I developed and there were shows in which the “gestural vocabulary” was the only language in the work—there were no words—but I started working a little less like that recently. I’ve always had this dance-theater focus with live music, and as I became influenced by the artists that work at HERE, I’ve had puppetry work, and a lot of video work, for the past ten years.
I wish I worked more, but it takes about two years to make these big, hybrid projects, so I do one at HERE about every two years and I work in other places, as well. But I didn’t do that for a long time because there was so much work in making this entity run. Originally, we were non-hierarchical, but then the other founders asked me to step-up as Executive Director because they felt that I was already doing the job, but I didn’t have the credit and independence that we needed as an organization at that time.
I became Executive Director and I did that for a number of years, and then seven or eight years ago, Kim [Whitener] joined me as Producing Director and I was finally able to move to Artistic Director, which is more where I wanted to be. It’s only been since Kim got involved, after we completed the renovation in 2008, that I’ve had enough space to work outside of HERE. Before that, I just didn’t have the time.
I remember when HERE was under renovation—it was a huge ordeal. Do you think the spaces are what you want them to be?
Yeah. But there was a problem in 2008 when we were renovating. The Trump Soho next door damaged our foundation so we couldn’t take the column in the main stage like we planned, so that delayed us. In 2011, we finally got to where we wanted to be in 2008, by taking the column out of the mainstage, and since we were shutting down, we decided to make the theater downstairs a flexible black box instead of a proscenium style space. That was really a big change for that little theater down there, and it’s made a big difference in the way we program work in that space.
What strikes me about HERE is that you work with a diverse community of artists working in so many disciplines to create hybrid work. What guides your curatorial process and how do you juggle between the artists and the different forms that are worked on at HERE?
There are two different answers to that. Actually three. The resident artist program—which is what we think about as our core program—is for about 15 to 17 artists at a time. They’re with us for up to three years, so it’s a really long-term investment in the artists and their work. We work really hard to have a mixture of disciplines, a mixture of ethnicities and cultural focuses, a mixture of men and women of different sexual orientation. We work really hard for that group to not be monochromatic, but to be as eclectic as New York City.
We have an open call for submissions, I go see work two or three times a week, Kim goes to see work two or three times a week, and we both say to artists: “We’d love for you to apply to HARP.” Our next deadline is January 2nd.
We get about a couple hundred submissions, which is quite a lot for just hybrid work, and we can usually take about 2, 3, or 4 artists at each submission round. We invite a panel from around the city including Basil [Twist]—who’s our Artistic Director for our Puppetry program, Beth Morrison, who represents the music area, Kim and I, and Pete, who is our dramaturg here, and there’s about six or seven of us who are usually serving on the panel, along with a couple of curators representing dance.
Everybody rates the work purely on artistic excellence and we don’t worry about all the other aspects of our selection criteria in the first stage. We go through the applications on our own and send scores in; we come in as a panel and look at the work again; we re-rate our scores and we look at all the rankings. People have the chance to advocate for someone to come up for further discussion because they were ranked too lowly and they can say: “I really think this artist is ranked too lowly, he’s been overlooked”—and we look at the work again. We go through the work a second time and we come up with a list of fifteen finalists.
Then, Kim and I conduct interviews, and now that artistic excellence has been taken care of, we consider another mixture of things—will they be a good community member? A good Ambassador for HERE? Do they serve the different disciplines we’re concerned about? Kim and I meet one-on-one with those artists and then we make a final selection.
How have artists approached their identity through their work at HERE?
It’s a real mixture. I think it’s come up in a more conscious way with the queer community. A lot of queer artists like Taylor Mac do not want their work to be talked about as queer, they want their work to be talked about as work and want it to be looked at in a broader spectrum.
I feel that is not as true for the ethnically diverse artists that we’ve worked with—like when we did James Scrugg’s “Disposable Men,” the piece was about the tension between black men and white women and race was a really core part of what the piece was about.
Then again, I feel that an international ensemble like the “exP Girls” are really thinking about themselves as expatriates, so they’re looking at themselves as an outsider culture looking into America—for them, it’s about outsider looking in and outsider as woman, so maybe it’s more about gender than race.
I feel that each of our artists tend to look at it very differently and there’s not a generalization to be made.
Are those shifts in perception part of your awareness when you select the artists, or is it something that gradually comes to light through the work?
I think it comes mostly through the work, but I think the artists are thinking about these things. It’s similar to when you look at hybrid work—the artists aren’t thinking: “well, I’m a theater artist, so I’m only going to use theater tools to tell this story?” The artists are like: “I’m going to use whatever tool is necessary to tell this story” and whether I use video for this section, a dance for this, or text for this, artists will use whatever tools are useful to them to make the work.
It’s fascinating, because a lot of the artists we’ve interviewed have said that while they have ways of identifying themselves racially or by sexual orientation, they just want to be considered artists.
Yes, artists don’t want to be labeled. And I feel that the funding community keeps forcing artists to be this-or-that when artists don’t necessarily feel that way. The press community keeps forcing artists to be labeled, because you have to decide to which desk you’re going to pitch their works to. Are you going to approach the theater desk, or the dance desk, or the music desk? That means different types of writing will be generated about the work.
Sometimes, we pitch pieces to a specific writer, so we can get the writer that we think is going to serve the work best. We don’t do it the same for each publication—we say: “OK, for Time Out, we should go to the Theater Desk because Helen or David might be great to write about this, but at the New York Times, maybe Claudia La Rocca is the person that will want to write about this.” We’re really strategic about how the work is positioned. But that’s like working in a system that isn’t responsive to the way artists are making things.
Do you think the articulation of the choices the artists are making need to be articulated by the media, or is there a half-step in which it needs to be articulated by the artists first?
I think the artists are already articulating it by saying: “I don’t want to be in this box.” But I think that the system hasn’t caught up to what they’re doing yet. And I think programming hasn’t fully caught up—I think some places have, but I think other places haven’t.
And not every artist is doing hybrid work. There are a ton of artists who are theatre artists, and there are a lot of choreographers who don’t work with text or other elements in their work—so there are a lot of artists who are working well-inside the borders of their disciplines, but because there are artists that aren’t, I feel that the system hasn’t caught up to what they’re doing yet.
I feel like there are so many more artists trying to work across disciplines, really collaborate outside their own forms, and a lot of it is “do it yourself.” Why isn’t this supported?
I think artists are always ahead of the curve—artists are always looking for the strongest ways to engage meaningfully to what is affecting them in the world. I think artists see all of these tools available and they don’t care that people may not understand these tools fully yet. They just think: “oh, this may be good for my show and really help me express something I’m thinking about.”
I also think we’re kinda’ behind here in New York, and in America, in terms of participatory work. It’s beginning to happen a lot more here, but it’s been happening in Europe a lot longer, and I don’t know why it took so long for us to catch up here. The whole “DIY” is encouraging artists to think a lot more about who are the people that are coming to see their work and not only thinking about them as passive viewers, but as active participants. I think that’s why more work seems to be taking different forms—it’s because people are thinking more about their relationship with the spectator and examining it anew.
It’s interesting that you’re inviting artists for three years to work at HERE, because that is actually how much time it takes, in average, to develop a more hybrid or experimental piece. It’s amazing that artists have the opportunity to work on a long-term basis in one venue, because usually that process is more piecemeal.
Right, they get six months here, or two weeks there—we say it’s a one to three year residency and it’s for how long it takes to make the work. Taylor Mac’s “Lily’s Revenge” was five years because that was a huge piece—it was 5 hours, 35 performers—and we were fine with that, he was in the program for as long as he needed to be.
How structured is your support system? Is it responsive to the needs of each project?
Every project is its own thing, but the structure that exists is that we have monthly meetings in which the artists meet and show their work to each other for feedback. We have break-out sessions that are as few, or as many, as that group needs. We had an intellectual property lawyer come last week to meet with them, not everyone wanted that, but twelve artists came to it, because it was about who owns what in collaboration agreements, and that is really complicated. We just did a session about integrating video work, which was led by artists in the group and in that one, the video artists took the lead. We also do development ones, of course, one on crowdsourcing and social networks.
Then, individually, we meet with the artists one-on-one when they start their residencies with each of our staff members. Kim and I help them develop a timeline to help them envision the development of the work—that changes with what happens along the way—but it helps them map out what the steps are to make the piece. Then, they meet with Amanda, who is our General Manager, to develop a budget for the different workshops and determine how much money they’ll need for each workshop and how much they’ll need for the full production down the road. They also meet with Brenna, our Development Director, to think about how they’re going to write about the work and how to take what they originally turned in for their HARP proposal and make that into a project proposal to send out for fundraising.
Then, they meet with Amanda and Trevor in our marketing department and that feels strange, because at the beginning of the three years you don’t even know what the project will be, but for us, marketing is about the relationship with the audience and thinking about who is the community of people you are making this work for and who you want to impact.
What kind of relationships can you begin to make now, so that you grow a community, as you’re making the work? We do this whole thing with artists about identifying community and figuring out how to engage them. In some ways, it’s superficial—it’s just blogging and Facebook and things like that—but sometimes, we identify very specific community organizations that they want to partner with, so they can grow the trust of the organizations now, so that eventually, those organizations are willing to have their community members come to a show.
The artists meet with our staff for as long as they want to. Some people come in once every month, some people come in a few times a month; it’s individual, but as a group, they share what their fundraising challenges are, what their artistic challenges are, and individually, we work on a one-on-one basis with them. That’s our structure.
That sounds like artist heaven! Did you ever consider it a “risk” to provide this much?
It is! But we started HARP because we saw mid-career artists burning out and leaving the field and that really concerned us. We wanted to have a place in which mid-career artists could talk to each other about how they were solving their problems because some were solving their problems and failing in other ways, and they would get overwhelmed. If you could hear from your peers how they were solving their problems, then you were more likely to stay in the field for the long-term.
It’s really an unusual residency because it’s a mixture of artistic and career development, at the same time, and we do showings of work-in-progress every couple of months to show shows. If they do works-in-progress off-site, that’s fine with us. Right now, Lauren [Petty] and Shaun [Irons] are developing a piece for us, but they have a residency at LMCC, so they’re doing a showing with them, which we consider part of our work-in-progress.
It is risky—some of the pieces fail, but most of the time, I forget the exact numbers, 80% or 85% of the projects that we bring in to the residency program go through all the way to being produced. So it’s also not like other developmental programs in which there are no productions in the end—we really bring them in because it’s a project that should be produced and the artists are worthy of it being produced. They’re not auditioning for us, which is what can happen in a lot of developmental programs.
How do you envision the role of the audience in this process, and how much of this is something that the artists need to establish? Do you provide any guiding principles?
There are definitely some guiding principles that come from the organization, but it’s different based on what each artist wants it to be. We think about providing as many different points of contact between the artist and audience throughout the process. On our website, each artist has their own project page and they have a blog in which they can blog as much or as little as they want. That’s a place where conversations can happen and they can share slides, videos, post things that they’re thinking about or images that are inspiring them. There’s the online piece.
We also do a lot of social media stuff—we do Pinterest, Facebook, tweeting—there’s a whole bunch of things that we do to try to talk to and engage people. We have a HERE personality that we’ve developed, that is more playful and not as institutional and have people feel comfortable with us as an organization, but artists have whatever tone they have. We don’t institutionalize their tone.
Then, we think about the before, during and after experience that an audience has with the work. The before is all the online stuff, but when they’re here, we think about what are the different things we can do. We had to this show called “How to Break” last season which we developed with the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, and we built a chalkboard door with chalk, so people could write their responses. It totally got tagged and people wrote tons of great things—we thought it really needed to be accessible and friendly, not high-tech.
We’re also doing a thing called “Five for Five,” where we ask audience members if they would stay for five minutes to share their thoughts about the work and we developed a series of questions to ask and we pull those questions out of a hat and we have the audience members answer them on camera and we put their responses on our website on HEREsay.
We actually do a ton of post-performance conversations, but we don’t do a lot of artist talkbacks. We did one, when we did Suli Holum and Deborah Stein’s piece “Chimera,” which dealt with DNA and genetics, and we had a priest, a genetic scientist, and a Buddhist monk who talked about when humanity starts. That was an interesting conversation dealing deeply with the issues that the artists were engaging.
We also have a thing called “Cocktails and Context with Kristin and Kim,” which is a pre-show event. Anyone interested can come before the show and we give them a free drink and tell them about how we curated the work. Then, we host “works-in-progress” workshops and full productions, so the audience can see the work along the way.
Sometimes, there’s written feedback forms; sometimes we do Liz Lehrman’s technique for audience feedback—all depending on what the artists want to do. Sometimes, we have people come up to the café and give the artists feedback in person over drinks.
You’ve talked about so many different strategies to engage an audience, is someone measuring all of these?
Yes, funders make us measure them. We collect statistics and we do post-performance surveys, and we do them both on paper and online. We actually do them more on paper because we found that if we just do it by email, we don’t get as many responses as when we hand people a piece of paper and a golf pencil when they come in. It’s a lot more work for us, but we do a combination of paper and digital surveys.
We’re starting a new thing—focus group conversations about what people like about HERE and don’t like about HERE—but I’m a big proponent that the reason why people come to HERE is because of the artists and the work. It’s not about HERE—it’s a little plus—but the main way people pick work is by artists or subject. So I’m always making sure that every effort that we make is very specific to that show and we don’t do the same thing twice, because I don’t feel like we’re serving the artists if we do things the same way twice. We do this to serve one artist project and the people who need to come see it, one at a time.
With that said, we have 5,000 free theater tickets that we give away, we have over 10,000 discounted tickets, and the rest are full-price, which are usually $20 bucks. We also do student rush tickets every night, so for every HERE show that has empty seats, students can come in for free. We’ve got institutional things we try to do, to encourage diversity and make everyone feel that they have access to HERE, but it’s primarily about pin-pointing the needs of each artist and community.
I had questions about your video program, Made HERE. Could talk a little bit about the genesis of it and where you see it headed?
Yeah, it grew out of HARP directly. We’re a small organization and we felt that we could only serve the number of artists we could serve. We tried to expand HARP—we got up to 24 one year, but we felt that the community didn’t feel as connected to each other, so we shrunk it back down to 15-16 and that’s where we’re keeping it.
But the thing is we wanted to serve more artists. We’ve had so many artists telling us: “Oh, this made such a difference for me!” It’s been a turning point for a lot of artists’ careers, like Young Jean [Lee], Taylor [Mac], and Shige [Moriya] and Ximena [Garnica] from Leimay. HARP’s helped them take their work to a next level and it’s gotten them the next level of recognition, but we can’t do more. We don’t have the money, we don’t have enough staff, so MadeHERE grew out of an idea of how we could speak to a broader community of New York City artists and share the same arsenal of tools we were sharing with our resident artists.
The idea of having an online site was to provide resources to artists that they could look at, an opportunity for dialogue—which artists don’t use enough, sadly—and to hear from a variety of artists, emerging, mid-career, established and successful artists, about how they were overcoming the obstacles of being an artist in New York City.
We’ve done four seasons now, the fourth season is in the process of coming out now, but we don’t think we’ll continue it. We don’t have the funding to continue with it, but it’s been great and we’ve been interviewed about 100-something artists and it’s been around different issues.
We had a great process, again modeled after HARP, were we reached out to a lot of organizations and curators from around the city and asked them to speak with us about issues that artists were really struggling with. We asked a ton of artists what they were struggling with – our resident artists and we reached out to our former artists and community and outreached to survey a lot of people with what kind of questions they really wanted answered. We asked curators and a lot of artists to tell us which artists spoke to those issues and then we whittled it down to the artists that we were able to interview and we wanted to have equal borough representation—not make it Manhattan-centric—and we got to where we got with it.
We assembled a wonderful team of people to make the work. We really wanted it to be of high quality, but it’s been really expensive,. We have all done it for four seasons because we really believed in it and to keep it going, we tried to do a national roll-out. This is a MadeHERE New York, but we wanted to make a MadeHERE Seattle, and a MadeHERE Portland, MadeHERE New Orleans, so we wrote a couple of grants to get national funding. We wouldn’t run the entire project, but we would help people set them up in their own cities and make it on their own, because each city would have different issues to address in the project. We got some funding, but not enough funding, to do it.
Were there any issues that you were expecting to see, or issues that you were surprised to see when you were reaching out to your community?
Um, it was really interesting around the gender issues. People didn’t want to talk about that in the way we thought, so we reframed it quite a lot based on the feedback.
I think there’s a whole backlash about feminism, and people have this notion that it’s a dated subject, that it’s not applicable anymore, but then, at the same time, there’s not parity in terms of representation of women as leaders on projects or running organizations. There isn’t salary parity. There’s a sense that it’s a dated topic, but it’s totally relevant when you think of the underrepresentation of women in the theater. People didn’t want to talk about this the way I thought people would want to talk about it.
I have a whole set of opinions about it, but to me, it’s only been natural that half the work we do is by women. It’s the way I think it should be, but I think that’s not natural to the arts community in the country. I get really upset that’s not the representation we have at large, but artists didn’t want to address that, so we reframed those episodes based on the responses they gave. I guess that was one of the few cases in which we went in with some assumptions that weren’t as good a fit for the community, but then again, those episodes still turned out to be super interesting.
We’ve had a similar experience trying to address similar issues. Sometimes people say that it’s a little bit harder to talk about them, or maybe harder to do it in public, and people feel that they may over-step and maybe burn bridges. They feel that it’s not a safe space and what’s interesting about MadeHERE and the HARP program is that for me, it seems like it’s the safest space for artists to really speak out or speak directly. Have you heard of gender budgeting?
It’s this policy practice I heard about it in Korea. It was implemented to analyze public budgets based on gender and how much money was being spent on men and women, in terms of salaries, or business expenses, so you could see if there was an equal distribution of financial resources and if there was gender parity. You could see what women and men got in a work environment through public funds or grants, and you could see that not only was there a wage disparity, but gender biased allocation of financial resources—
Right, educational disparity—
Exactly. It was something that was instituted in Korea and it’s been put into practice in a lot of European countries and promoted by the UN.
I’m surprised I didn’t know about that.
Where are you now? What are you looking forward to this season and the next? Are there any challenges you are facing? We’re in a very complex moment right now.
I’ll have to answer this question on two levels. In terms of HERE’s season, we have Joe Diebes’ “Botch” coming up, which is a challenging piece. Joe’s a very unique artist—he’s trained as a composer and he’s worked a lot in the visual arts, so this piece is like an audio piece—he’s calling it a “broken word opera.” It’s gonna’ be a hard piece to find the right audience for, and as he’s been growing the piece, we talk about this all the time. “Botch” is a little bit in the realm of “Performa,” in terms that it’s a visual arts meets performance kind of experience, and his work is really rigorous, really smart, it’s challenging, and it’s fun. I’m really excited about it, but I’m also really nervous about finding the right community of people to come see it, and we’ve been working really hard on that.
Coming up in December we have “The Pigeoning,” which is Robin Frohardt, another resident artist. “The Pigeoning” is a piece about the end of the world, from this puppet—Frank’s perspective. There’s all these pigeons that he’s sure are bringing in about the end of the world, and it’s really this charming, dark-comedy, puppet piece for adults.
And then we have Prototype, a festival of opera-theater and music-theatre from around the world which we co-produce with Beth Morrison Projects. It’s our second year of Prototype, which I’m really excited about. It’s even bigger this year than it was last year. It’s got a great range, but we have a huge fundraising challenge still, in raising money for that festival. It’s a very expensive festival. And of course, we have Culturemart, where all the resident artists will show their works-in-progress.
Then, we have Lauren Petty and Shaun Iron’s piece, ”Keep your Electric Eye on Me,” coming up in May. The piece has a lot of video work happening in a really different way, and they’re collaborating with a choreographer, Tara O’Con and have Madeline George, a wonderful performer, so it’s got a great range.
Artistically for me, what was supposed to open our season was “Trade Practices,” which I’ve been working on the last two years with David Evan Morris. It’s a piece about the economy and how we assign value to things, and it was conceived as a site-specific piece.
We were four weeks into rehearsal when the landlord pulled the space where we were planning to do it, so we had to pull the plug on the piece. We spent almost all of the money that we had raised for the project, because we had already marketed it, paid our press agent, our rehearsals and all that stuff, so I have a huge amount of money that I need to raise to do the piece, and I have to find a new site. That is the hugest challenge that I’m facing that relates to HERE. It was devastating. I had never had something like that happen to me professionally.
Wow. It says a lot to the way the markets are working right now and people are being displaced.
OK. As a final thought: the goal of our research is to figure out not only the best practices, but identify the challenges of our field, especially in work that is more diverse than traditional forms. What is your process of empowering artists to take initiative, because we’re beginning to hear that it’s necessary to not only articulate our needs, but to articulate the position of artists in society, and the value of the work we’re contributing to society. I’m sure that you’ve struggled with these questions and found ways to answer it. How do you tackle these questions and what is working for you? Or what isn’t ?
HARP is all about empowering artists; it’s about artists determining what they want their process to be, what level of resources their projects are going to have and require. Who their collaborators will be. And what communities they want to engage with. It’s really about encouraging them to think about the whole piece and to develop that on the track that is the right track for them. I think that means that the work will be different. Thinking through all of those things simultaneously changes the texture of the work. So that’s the artist empowerment piece of it.
But then, I’ve done work that I don’t think has worked out. We formed this group with ten other organizations called Lower Manhattan Arts Leaders, and we collected all of our statistics for the legislators. On one piece of paper, we could show that just these eleven organizations that ranged in budget sizes from $30,000 to $3 million dollars, had like 15 million people visit our websites online and a million in person—it was pretty impressive for eleven organizations. We could show we created this much economic activity. These were those economic measures that we shared with politicians to show that the arts make a significant economic impact, but then I served on this panel on the National Endowment for the Arts that was actually not about economic impact, but rather asking what the qualitative value of the arts were in our society and how we could measure that.
The panel brought a really interesting group of people together in three different cities across America and some of us went to all three cities, and some of us were only at each of those places—Asheville (North Carolina), Oakland (San Francisco), and Washington, DC. I think that a lot of people are trying to think about how to articulate the qualitative value of the arts and some of it really pisses me off because it’s about trying to measure something that is emotional. It makes me feel like these conversations are a necessary evil, that we have to find better ways to determine our values, because we’re losing the battle.
The battles that we’ve been fighting—arts for arts sake—isn’t convincing enough people and we keep losing our base of support. It feels to me like it’s about finding the different ways for the form to feel applicable to people.
I think we’re not losing the battle in terms of people’s experience, because I think that the coming to a place and being with a group of people in this moment, seeing something that will never be seen exactly this way, because people won’t be here—is irreplaceable. I don’t think it’s the same thing to be watching it on Youtube, sitting alone in your living room, and I think that’s proven by the fact that people continue to make the work.
But I do think that there’s something that we have to find the way to express, it’s not unlocked yet, so I don’t know. I keep trying in different ways and I keep thinking about it.
You’ve had access to conversations that are more policy related, and have experiences with that, but how do you address these questions in your community, as Artistic Director of HERE?
I’ve always said that I want HERE to be part of everyone’s daily life. I don’t want HERE to be a special occasion place. I want people to feel like they can come swing by and have a glass of wine and run into a friend and that they’re going to see a show, so they all decide to go. Or they come look at the art during the day and they run into people.
I want HERE to be integrated into people’s lives and that’s what I want art to be. I don’t want it to be like you’re going to the Metropolitan Opera or going to Broadway and art’s this totally expensive, inaccessible experience—it might be really cool, but it’s not something that feels like it’s integrated with the way you think about your life.
I think that the work that interests us will impact people’s lives. It may be by a great experience of beauty, or an experience of upset and provocation, or it might be that it was really moving—but I want people to leave the show thinking about the work and that by thinking about it, the work’s carried forward in their actions.
My role is to think about what we can do to intensify that possibility by all the ways we communicate with the general public for each project.
That is amazing. Thank you so much for your time.
Yeah, it was my pleasure. This was fun.
Kristin Marting is co-founder and Artistic Director of HERE, where she directs projects, cultivates artists and programs (including 17 OBIE-award winners) two performance spaces for an annual audience of 30,000.
She is a director of hybrid work based in NYC. Over the last 20 years, she has constructed 26 works for the stage, including 11 original hybrid works, 8 adaptations of novels & short stories and 7 classic plays. She works in a collaborative, process-driven way to fuse different disciplines into a cohesive whole. She has developed a unique directorial form that features a “gestural vocabulary” used both as an emotional signifier and as a choreographic element.
Kristin has directed 16 works at HERE and also premiered works at 3LD, Ohio Theatre, and Soho Rep. Her work has toured to 7 Stages, Berkshire Festival, Brown, MCA, New World, Painted Bride, Perishable, UMass, and internationally to Moscow Art Theatre and Oslo. She has directed readings and workshops for Clubbed Thumb, New Georges, Playwrights Horizons, Public Theatre, Target Margin, and others. Selected residencies include LMCC, Mabou Mines, NACL, Penrose, Playwrights Center, Smack Mellon, Voice & Vision and Williams.
Kristin was recently named a nytheatre.com Person of the Year for outstanding contribution, a Woman to Watch by ArtTable and honored with a BAX10 Award. Selected grants include 2 MAP Fund, NEA, NYSCA, Greenwall, Harkness, Jerome and Santvoord Foundations. Prior works have been reviewed in all major NY papers.
Kristin is a political activist who has organized many art actions and a frequent panelist for the NEA, TCG, NYSCA, DCA, and ART/NY. She taught Creative Producing at NYU and has lectured at a number of universities. She served as Co-President of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She assisted Robert Wilson on Salome and Hamletmachine and co-founded the tiny mythic theatre company. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with honors in 1988.